By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's  Medizinal-Pflanzen  - List of Koehler Images, (Public Domain)

By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen - List of Koehler Images, (Public Domain)

What are balloons made of?

Natural latex rubber and metalized nylon (sometimes mistakenly called “Mylar”) are the most common materials used in modern balloon manufacturing. Airigami primarily uses latex balloons. Latex is a natural product derived from trees, and is biodegradable. Many plants naturally make latex, and tapping trees for the material doesn’t harm them. Latex harvesting discourages deforestation because latex-producing trees are left intact. In fact, a tree can produce latex for up to 40 years. 


When were balloons invented? 

Balloons have existed for centuries. The earliest balloons were made of animal bladders filled with air or liquid and hurled as weapons or toys. Many references to early, non-latex balloons can be found in literature, from 1813’s Swiss Family Robinson to 1851’s Moby Dick. The first rubber balloons were made in 1824 at the Royal Institution in London by Professor Michael Faraday for use in his experiments with hydrogen. The following year, toy balloons were introduced by rubber manufacturer Thomas Hancock in the form of a do-it-yourself kit consisting of a bottle of rubber solution and a condensing syringe. Vulcanized toy balloons, unaffected by changes in temperature, were first manufactured by J.G. Ingram of London in 1847—the prototype of modern toy balloons.


What gas/equipment do you fill the balloons with? 

Depending on the project and the resources available, balloons are most often filled with air, helium, or nitrogen. Most Airigami projects use air. We use everything from small hand pumps—similar to those used to inflate sport balls and bicycle tires—to large air compressors are used.


How long do inflated balloons last? Can they be preserved?

There’s no firm time table. All latex balloons will deflate. Despite their shrinking, they may hold their shape for days or even weeks. Typically, larger sculptures with more balloons can look good longer since no single balloon is critical to the overall appearance of a sculpture. Rubber protectants, such as the sprays often used to protect rubber on car tires, will help keep a sculpture looking good longer, but they won’t keep them looking fresh indefinitely. The time required to apply those protectants can make them impractical for large displays. We just accept that what we are sculpting are memories. They can last indefinitely that way.

Do you do balloon releases?

Airigami does not orchestrate or participate in helium filled balloon releases. As founding members of PEBA USA, we are working to educate the public on the importance of not releasing balloons into the environment, providing alternative options to releases, and the correct use and disposal of balloons.

While latex balloons do break down, the ribbons commonly attached to them are made from plastic. When helium filled balloons are released, these ribbons can wind up


What happens to the balloons when you’re done with them?

Latex balloons are 100% bio- and photo- degradable. Latex breaks down under normal environmental conditions like other natural products. Whenever possible, we compost our balloons through our partnership with Impact Earth

Don’t litter! Once balloons have been enjoyed, they should be popped and disposed of properly. Whenever possible Airigami composts our latex balloons.

Don’t litter! Once balloons have been enjoyed, they should be popped and disposed of properly. Whenever possible Airigami composts our latex balloons.

Are balloons a serious choking hazard?

Uninflated and broken balloons may be a choking hazard for small children. Adult supervision is always recommended around balloons for this reason. We encourage discarding broken balloons at once to avoid any mishaps with children picking up scraps. Airigami installations are usually intended to be viewed and not handled. Reports of children choking on balloons are rare.


Who is at risk from latex allergies?

Latex allergies present a moderate to serious health problem for a very small percentage of the population. Reactions to naturally produced latex may range from minor skin irritation to reactions so severe that immediate emergency medical treatment is required to prevent death.

Those most at risk of having an allergic reaction to latex are in the medical arena —doctors, nurses, dentists, technicians, and certain patients. These people are exposed to latex gloves and equipment which has latex on it. In other words, you aren’t likely to experience a latex allergy for the first time at an event with balloons. In most cases, you’ll know you have a latex allergy from a previous experience in a medical setting.


Are there non-latex balloons that can be used for sculpture?

While there’s been a lot of interest lately in alternatives to latex, so far there are no alternatives in production that give us the properties needed for our balloon twisting.

In certain circumstances, sculptures can be built using foil balloons. Foil balloon sculptures have different properties from latex balloon sculptures. Unlike stretchy latex, foil balloons have a defined shape. These shapes can be combined to create larger pieces and have a stunning mirror finish.

Foil balloons do have a higher sensitivity to temperature change. As temperatures increase the pressure of the air inside the balloon increases, which can lead to unintended breakage. A decrease in temperature leads to foil balloons looking under-inflated. Foil balloon sculptures are best suited for temperature controlled indoor environments.