Is helium flammable? Somehow, there is still some confusion on this topic. However, poor ongoing reporting may be at least partly to blame.
“Helium balloons burst into flames!”
It almost sounds like an old B-movie from the horror drive-in.
If you’ve been watching the news or news feeds lately, you may have seen the recent video below that’s swept through the media:
And if you look at the titles of the news articles like this one, you’ll notice it reads:
“Helium Balloons Burst Into Flames, Injure 15”
And this isn’t the only culprit by any means, it just happens to be the one we pulled from this latest incident.
We see dozens of articles improperly titled this way all of the time — do your own search and see. (For whatever reason, it seems to most often be from media outlets in and around India.)
Is helium flammable?
The answer is simply, no. Helium is an inert gas. Inert quite literally means non-combustible.
In fact, helium (in its liquid state) is actually used as a coolant for things like rocket ships, MRI machines, and particle accelerators.
So why is helium gas so often mistaken as flammable?
Perhaps it goes all the way back to the Hindenburg blimp tragedy (which was filled with hydrogen, not helium).
Perhaps the label of “gas” is just automatically assumed to also mean flammable.
And perhaps it has something to do with articles that announce that a bunch of helium balloons caught fire and injured people.
Well, they didn’t. Is helium flammable? No. Do you have any at Zephyr? Lots. Get a free quote here!
So what was in the balloons?
Those balloons certainly exploded and people certainly were hurt. Most of the time the actual gas inside is hydrogen — the same gas originally used to fill blimps until the famous Hindenburg accident.
The reason for this is usually cost. Hydrogen is often a little bit cheaper than helium and sometime more readily available depending on geography.
We did some digging on this particular video above and found that those particular balloons were filled with acetylene, a highly reactive gas that is manufactured with ethylene.
In fact, acetylene is so combustible that it was reported that the cause of this explosion was simply a balloon brushing up against a light bulb.
So there you have it. Take it from the helium experts at Zephyr – your helium balloons are never going to burst into flames.
And to all the reporters and media outlets out there — please do your part to report the truth and not mislead, whether intentionally or not. Just find and report the facts and we will all leave a little more knowledgeable.
Sources: NDTV, Heavy.com