Rescue a Balloon With a Helium Transfusion

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Introduction: Rescue a Balloon With a Helium Transfusion

About: Middle aged geek username also works at yahoo.com, mac.com, comcast.net, wharton-10.arpa

Helium is a tiny little molecule that tends to escape through the walls of balloons, causing them to become non-boyant and sad. Normal rubber balloons usually die overnight, while the more expensive "mylar" balloons (which aren't really mylar at all, but usually a nylon/polyethylene double-layer film) gradually lose their helium over the space of a couple of weeks, become shrunken and ill before finally sinking to the ground, dead.

But the life of your favorite balloon can be extended indefinately by the sacrifice of its less-loved brother and sister balloons, if you preform Helium Transfusions!

Step 1: You Will Need

You will need the balloon you want to preserve, a sacrificial balloon to provide helium, and a long hollow tube of some kind that is small enough in diameter to be shoved up the valve stems of the balloons. I think the tube show here is from a kid's pinwheel. I've also used a piece of insulation from a cat5 cable, an SMT IC tube, and a fiberglass kite spar. A soda straw tends to be a little too short, and a little too fat, but you might get one to work.

Step 2: Drill for Helium

Most "mylar" helium balloons have a built-in one-way valve that consists of a flat tube of plastic that extends into the body of the balloon. Gas flowing in expands the tube and has no problems. Gas trying to get out tends to collapse the tube, so no passages is possible. It works really well. Some balloons have an additional self-adhesive layer to seal the tube shut, in which case you may be out of luck.

Find the opening for the inflation value on the step (usually) of the sacrificial balloon, and shove one and of your transfusion tube gently through the valve-stem until it escapes the far (internal) opening of the valve. This is usually 6 to 10 inches. Now your tube is holding the valve open, and helium can escape through the tube (You should be able to feel some if you squeeze the balloon.)

Step 3: Inflate the Patient Balloon

Insert the other end of the tube into the valve stem of the balloon you are trying to save. You don't need to go very far up the stem on this side; the gas is going to be flowing the way that the valve is designed to allow. Now, holding both balloon necks to keep them from coming off of the tube, squeeze the sacrificial balloon, and helium show flow from it into the balloon you're rescuing. Keep squeezing until either the sacrificial balloon is as empty as you can get it, or the patient balloon is full and firm. You may have to repeat the last steps with several sacrificial balloons if your balloons are really empty.

Step 4: Recycle the Sacrificial Balloon

You can use the tube to suck the rest of the helium out of the sacrificial balloon(s), returning them to something resembling their initial uninflated state. If there's substantial helium left, amuse your friends and family by talking with a lung full of helium, and remember to occasionally get your lungs full of regular oxygen-containing air as well.

Once the balloon is fully deflated, it can be stored easily and saved for future occasions. It's probably not economical to rent your own helium tank to re-inflate old balloons, but once you've collected a whole bunch you can consider doing things like inflating them with regular air and filling your house/office/whatever-mates room with them :-)

You can also use this technique for deflating "collectable" balloons to save them (like those nice expensive balloons from Disneyland), and eventually for saving your favorite party balloon.

Step 5: Enjoy the Rescued Balloon

Doesn't it look happier now?

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    32 Discussions

    This is good to know. I never knew they had the one-way valve tube. I hope to someday make art balloons from scratch, so i may try the one-way valve trick.

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    mrmath

    11 years ago

    Nice instructable. Good idea. I like the idea of saving the balloons and blowing them up later. You can buy small tanks for just a little money.

    I did hear, by the way, that two consecutive lungfuls of helium will render you unconcious. The helium prevents the oxygen from getting in, of course. It can be so dangerous, that you can die.

    So, while I'll probably do it my self next time I'm around a helium balloon but not my kids, don't inhale helium.

    18 replies

    Helium is an "Inert Gas." As such it is non-poisonous. The only danger of inhaling helium is the lack of oxygen. Two consecutive lung-fulls would very likely make you a little dizzy. It might, even render you unconscious, especially if you tried to hold your breath. But it's very unlikely going to kill you. Once unconscious, you will automatically start breathing normally. I'm not saying do it! It's not good to rob your body of air for too long, ever.

    LasVegas, Not to be mean, or start an agrument, but did you follow the link I gave? The first article returned by the google search says: Chemical reaction does not cause fatal injuries. Rather, the pressure of gas inside the lungs is the agent that can kill instantly. Autopsies show that the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs have been ruptured. Death follows immediately, as the victims literally drown in their own blood. Under such circumstances, cardiopulmonary resuscitation is of no avail. That, of course, is when you're inhaling from a commercial helium tank. If you pass out, and start to breath normally, you will not empty your lungs. That requires a concious effort to do. That means you'll only get about half the helium out of your lungs, and will still have trouble getting the oxygen you need. Unless someone is there to give you mouth to mouth, you very well could die from inhaling helium from a balloon.

    You don't need to "empty your lungs" of helium to return to safe territory; you just need to get the concentration of oxygen in your lungs back up to higher than that in your blood. It's a standard osmosis problem; fill your lungs with gas whose oxygen concentration is lower than that of blood, and oxygen flows from the blood into the gas rather than from the gas into your lungs (as would continue to happen for quite a while when you hold your breath.) Since "empty" lungs still contain a fair amount of air, I think you'd have to be pretty unlucky to even pass out inhaling from a helium balloon. Never inhale ANYTHING from a pressurized source. Not even air.

    I hate to say it, but I provided the link for a reason. It is a medical fact that two lungfuls of helium, from a balloon or a tank, taken without a breath in between, will make you pass out. I knew that people wouldn't belive me, because I didn't belive it myself. I always said there's no harm. I know better now. There is actual danger in inhaling helium from a balloon.

    • I provided the link for a reason. It is a medical fact that two lungfuls of helium, from a balloon or a tank, taken without a breath in between, will make you pass out.

    I'm sorry; you provided a link that was a search query. I looked at several of the links and didn't see one that supports that particular claim, and several that said things like "unconciousness occurs after a couple of minutes" and "death is relatively certain after 10 minutes" (suicide sites; creepy...) Do you have a more specific link?

    I'll admit that I didn't read every link there, and had no idea it included a suicide link! I'm sorry about that.

    I didn't mean for this to degrade into a debate about the dangers, or lack there of, of helium.

    I did find a link that indicates:

    ...while it is true that helium itself is nonthreatening, inhaling it has been known to cause asphyxia...

    And

    Henry Wickes Jr., a consultant with Madeley Safety Engineers in Texas, wrote... "Depending on how completely oxygen is replaced by helium, you may lose consciousness quickly and without warning,”

    The two lungful stat the I gave out was from a demonstration given by a cryogenics expert from Praxair, so I can't give you a link specific to that.

    In my search for more specific links I came across one that said that the desire to breath comes from a build up of carbon dioxyide in your lungs, and since inhaling helium doesn't allow for this, you can die from aphyxiation without feeling staved for air like. But, I lost the link while searching, and can't provide it here.

    The confrontational nature of my previous posts was not intended, and I apologize for coming across as such.

    Balloon-gas is usually something like 20% helium and 80% air (?). I've never felt oxygen-deprived from balloon-gas (and I've taken 2 lungfulls several times), but purer helium would indeed pose the risk of asphyxia.

    First off, balloon helium is closer to 98% helium. The reason you never feel oxygen deprived is that you aren't generating CO2, which drives the urge to breathe. That, actually demonstrates the danger (though I agree with Las Vegas that the risk is being seriously overplayed by MrMath.)

    Balloon-gas is not closer to 98% helium. Helium is very expensive, balloon-gas contains enough to make 'em lighter than air but not much more. I kid you not. Terrestrial helium comes from raioactive decay of lithium & is obtained fron oil & gas wells: limited supply. It is not cheap at all @ 98%, and balloon-gas is nowhere near this.

    A consumer helium for Balloons claims to be 98% pure or better. Where are you getting your 20% number?

    Another Balloon site (the first I could find with actual prices listed) will rent you an 80ft3 tank of helium for a week (ie you can use up all the helium) for $35. And this USGS report lists the commodity price of helium as about $11000/ton. While that's expensive compared to (say) nitrogen, it's still cheap enough to be used extensively in welding, where it's simply allowed to float way after keeping the O2 off your weld.

    I don't really have anything to say that is at all relevant, I just wanted to see what happens if the replies are pushed all the way to the right...

    The person with the widest screen wins. I've got the original 23" Mac flat panel display. Anyone got the newer 30incher?

    (or it could be that the person who can read the smallest font wins. That would NOT be me...)

    I'm getting my figure from having previously looked at bottles of balloon-gas. And to take a synical view, the Helium they're (your link) using may be that pure, but could still be diluted with air. Next time I'm near some baloon-gas I shall look-again L

    I take a cynical view of anything at all propounded by someone who spells "cynical" as "synical".