Can static electricity pop a balloon?

Ever get an hour or so into a gig and then BAM! BAM! BAM! - balloons start to pop one after another? When many balloons start to spontaneously explode, static electricity is often the culprit. If you work in the same general area for a prolonged period of time and that area happens to be carpeted, and/or in low humidity (you're inside a heated room on a cold, winter day) there's a really good chance for static build up. Static electricity sparks will cause your balloons to pop. So, here's what you can do:

Get yourself a can of "Static Guard," a product to prevent static buildup on clothing, and spray profusely whenever you feel like you're a victim of static cling. Anti-Static agents for textiles quite generally work by increasing the electrical conductivity of the fabric. In this way, electrical charge is prevented from accumulating on the fabric, and cannot cause discharges. The conductivity is improved by attracting humidity from the air.


The effect from "Static Guard" only lasts a few hours and it smells badly. Try 3M "Scotchguard for Furniture." It has wonderful anti-static properties.

I explained the problems with static that balloon people experience to an aerospace Static Control Engineer. He told me a spritzer bottle of water will do the same trick as Static Guard without odor or contamination problems.

  • On dry, windy days, we keep a cool air humidifier going in our shop.
  • You can use Static Guard on the inside of plastic release bags with success.
  • I've encountered this static twice before; both in carpeted rooms, and one of those times in a room with lots of copiers and computers.
  • In regards to helium balloons in a computer store - don't do it! We tried to do single arches in a computer retail store and every balloon popped. At one point 5 balloons popped at the same time! It has to do with static. It has nothing to do with the balloon size - we've even done it in a computer training center in an office tower - same problem.
  • Recently I did a job in a mall conference room with new carpet and a TV (which was off). I don't recall breaking as many balloons in my entire 14 years of being in business. So I went to the drug store in the mall and bought Static Guard, sprayed it on the balloons before I blew them up and also sprayed it on the bouquets. The problem stopped. I have used the same exact balloons for other jobs and had no problems. The only thing I could figure was the new carpet and/or the TV.
  • On one job my balloons were doing fine and then started popping like mad. Then I realized that the hair on my arms was standing on end. Static, big time. Now I keep a "Bounce" dryer sheet in one of my apron pockets. When static builds up, I take it out and rub my hands on it - works for me!
  • Buy a static gun (under $10) at a record store - They take the static away from record surfaces. I've used the gun on my bag of balloons and it seems to help. Every once in a while I squeeze the gun at the plastic bag and it takes the charge away.
  • If you are standing in one spot twisting and your balloons start to pop, move over a couple feet. Perhaps try grounding yourself.
  • Attach a computer static mat around your pump and touch that before you touch the balloon.
  • Don't use a pump! Inflate by mouth. The air in the balloon will be more humid.
  • To prevent popping, try underinflating or working with a soft balloon.
  • Use baby oil or glycerin on my hands. Glycerin will make them squeak a LOT more and baby oil needs time to soak in but both work well. A hand lotion that contains glycerin is also good.
  • Every time I go to my local hospital with bouquets, they start popping. Once, while delivering to the emergency room, and back behind the doors, they started! One at a time- bang! bang! Out of a dozen latex balloons in the arrangement, I had 3 left! I went back to the studio to make another arrangement. This time I underinflated a bit, and I was able to make the delivery.
  • We find that when we hi-float and preinflate, so the balloons are dry when we get on site, they will take a lot more abuse regarding handling and static.
  • I've asked some engineers what could cause the popping; they told me it most likely has to do with ions in the air that are charged in such a way that they react with the balloon. I (we) don't believe it to be just static. How many of us have ever made a balloon stick to our hair with static electricity? One engineer recommended moving the air around with a fan to help keep the problem at bay.

Why do balloons pop around an adhered point when subjected to movement (pulling, rubbing etc.)?

First create an adhered point by cleaning all the talc/cornstarch from a balloon, inflating it, and rubbing it against itself with a lot of force. Or by making a lock-twist. Or tie a knot in the nozzle and roll the ever-tightening knot towards the nozzle.

If you press your clean palm against a clean table, press down and then try to slide, you will get a jerky, stop-and-go motion called "stick-slip motion" or "stiction" (sticking-friction). If you look very carefully at the adhered point on the balloon when subjected to movement, you will get the same thing - the rubber welds to itself (sticks) and then tears (as it slides) because of the low shear and tensile strength of the latex. You can actually see the tearing debris accumulate when you do this (wear goggles!) Once this mechanism tears a hole in the balloon, the shape of the hole, stress in the wall of the balloon, toughness, and thickness of the latex all come into play in determining how the balloon responds. This kind of thing is studied in a field called fracture mechanics - the study of crack formation and growth.

Look at a balloon after it has popped. See that straight edge in the rubber that looks as if it was cut by a razor blade? That is the fracture surface along which the crack ran at the speed of sound in the latex. You can trace it right back to the origin of the fracture (the original tear). A familiar example are the cracks you get in glass windows when you hit them with a rock - you can tell where the rock hit, can't you? Because of the stress distribution present in an inflated 260Q, I'd expect the crack to run substantially more longitudinally than circumferentially.