Party balloons typically come in two forms: latex, a flexible material made from liquid rubber; and foil, made from a nylon sheeting coated with plastic and metallic materials. While often referred to as Mylar®, the registered name belonging to that material's inventor, DuPont Teijin Films, most foil balloons are made of similar, but not those exact, chemical components.
What is a Latex Balloon?
Latex is a liquid rubber harvested from the sap of rubber trees found in Africa and parts of Asia. Chemists process the sap with a mixture or water, oil, colour and various chemicals to make it suitable for thousands of uses, including medical supplies (gloves, bandages and equipment), toys, adhesives, pacifiers, and balloons. Most latex balloons feature a solid colour. To print images or words upon them, printers must first inflate them, print the image, and then deflate them.
Benefits of Latex Balloons
Latex balloons are colourful, affordable, and offer the flexibility to be filled with helium, air, or even liquid (water). The nature of latex makes them tear-resistant, though if inflated too much, or poked with a sharp object, they will pop.
Drawbacks of Latex Balloons
Because the latex is not entirely airtight (it is slightly porous), the helium will eventually seep out; typically within 12 to 24 hours, the latex balloon will no longer float in the air. In cold temperatures, the helium-filled latex balloon will deflate even more quickly, making it less than ideal for outside usage in colder climates.
Warning: Specific Choking Risks with Latex Balloons
Parents must be wary of the specific choking risks latex balloons pose to children, either with pieces of a popped balloon, or while trying to inflate one. Latex balloons top the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) list of household choking dangers for children, placing them above coins, toys and marbles. Both the AAP and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) warn that the choking risks extend to children up through age eight; the PIRG recommends foil balloons for children instead.
Understanding Mylar®, or Foil, Balloons
Foil balloons are comprised of a nylon sheet coated with polythene and metallic materials that have been heat-sealed together. The resulting foil is lightweight and non-porous (airtight). Because the material does not expand or stretch, when inflated, printers are easily able to print upon its flat surface.
Benefits of Foil Balloons
Foil balloons are conveniently self-sealing. Additionally, the foil material makes them completely non-porous; they can only leak helium from their neck seals, and if those seals are properly tight, they can float for a week or two. Also, those seeking an even longer life for their foil balloon can refresh or refill its helium. When a foil balloon is popped, it will not break into pieces; it does not present the choking hazards that latex balloons do.
Drawbacks of Foil Balloons
The materials and production process for foil balloons make them more expensive than latex. They also present a hazard with power lines; when let go outdoors, foil balloons, especially those with metallic ribbons attached, have become tangled within them, causing power outages. To minimise the risk, suppliers have stopped using metallic ribbons, and now provide weights for the balloons to keep them from floating away.