What's the best (and cheapest-per-balloon-inflated) way to get your own home helium tank for balloons?
July 30, 2011 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Recently I realized that I'm the kind of guy who needs/wants a helium tank for balloons in my house, 'cause you never know when you're going to need some balloons at 3am. Where do party stores and supermarkets get their balloon helium tanks and helium? Do they rent those tanks, or do they own their own and fill them up somewhere?

Doing an internet search, it looks like the place to get helium is the local welding supply company -- or maybe not? I'm pretty much looking for the lowest-cost-per-balloon solution available, even if the up front cost is a bit higher. It seems like most sites on the internet want to become your internet helium tank middleman, or they want to sell you an el cheapo disposable tank that can fill like 25 balloons and then you throw it out. I need more balloons! MORE! How do the pros do it? Ask MeFi, help me cut out the middle man, man, 'cause come on, balloons.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Industrial Gases
posted by hortense at 6:42 PM on July 30, 2011

I can't speak specifically to helium, but I have bought welding gas (acetylene and oxygen), and you generally swap tanks. So if you don't have your own tanks to begin with (I'd bought a torch used), you're basically paying a tank deposit.

Find your local welding and industrial gases place and drop in on them. I've found (from doing things like showing up with a cooler and a couple of oversized coffee Thermostmes and asking "could you fill these with liquid nitrogen for me?") that they're the sorts of people who'll be totally behind someone who thinks that they might need to fill some balloons at 3am, and will be happy to explain the options to you.
posted by straw at 6:44 PM on July 30, 2011

Helium is called an industrial gas, as the link above shows. Call around to a number of industrial gas suppliers and ask the if it is possible for an individual to acquire industrial quantities of helium without a special permit/infrastructure. Helium is inert, unlike hydrogen, so it may be possible.
posted by dfriedman at 6:45 PM on July 30, 2011

You're worrying me a little :-), but the answer is you rent a tank and the regulator/dispenser nipple thing from a local company that sells industrial gases (they probably also have other welding supplies, like the rods and masks and things, because welding is done with other gases that go in the same kinds of cylinders).

I'm sure it varies a bit from one part of the country to another, but my company paid about $80-90 for a cylinder that was said to have enough helium to fill about 400-500 balloons (we didn't get through that many, so I'll never know). They loaned us the dispenser for a deposit, which we got back when we returned it.

We had the thing over a weekend for a festival; not sure what the differences are if you seriously intend to keep the thing a long time and are a light user. I'd imagine you'd have to buy the dispenser, for one thing, but I doubt that costs more than $15-25.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:45 PM on July 30, 2011

dfriedman, there was no licensing or permitting required. This is a pretty common thing to do (the aforementioned grocers and florists, companies doing events, etc.), so an industrial gas company will know what to rent or sell you.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:47 PM on July 30, 2011

Party City has disposable helium tanks ranging from $40- $55.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:48 PM on July 30, 2011


You'd think it would be simpler to get ahold of some helium. Making hydrogen at home is pretty easy, but there's that whole minor "exploding balloons in yo face" issue. A pity. Thanks for the replies, keep 'em coming. Thank you thank you.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 6:48 PM on July 30, 2011

I'd just be careful. The kind of individual that thinks having a huge tank of helium is cool is the kind of individual that thinks it might be fun to crawl into a big balloon just to talk funny (I know because I am this sort of individual). This would be a bad idea.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:58 PM on July 30, 2011

You can get disposable helium cylinders as part of a kit.
posted by jet_silver at 7:11 PM on July 30, 2011

I work for a florist and we get ours from a company that brings us tanks and picks up empties.
Btw you don't want to do this at home because if that tank gets knocked over it will turn into a missile and destroy your house ...it is gas under pressure after all. The fire dept makes us keep them chained for that reason
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:52 PM on July 30, 2011

Randomkeystrike is right, an industrial gas or welding supply store is what you want. You need a tank and regulator/filler attachment, you can buy or rent these things from whatever gas supplier you find. There is something satisfying about being able to fill up some balloons whenever you have the urge. I've had a helium tank for probably close to 15 years (originally purchased to fill a remote control blimp). Even a pretty modest size tank will fill a lot of balloons. I think mine has only been refilled a couple of times. In fact it has been so long I can't recall how much it costs, but I seem to remember that the initial investment is significantly more than the cost of the helium (which means the disposable tank aren't a great deal if you plan on keeping a refillable tank around for a while).

As for the safety factor: don't discount it entirely. Securing it upright is probably a good idea, especially if you have pets or children about that could knock it over. Inhaling helium also has a element of risk to it as well. That said, I don't see any reason that a helium tank isn't ok for household use though.
posted by Medw at 8:56 PM on July 30, 2011

Also worth being aware of is that our supply of helium is finite and running out.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:36 PM on July 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Commercial helium tanks are fucking heavy and awkward. Just a warning. You might be better off with the Party City variety.
posted by radioamy at 11:02 PM on July 30, 2011

We got some of the Party City variety and they were great fun for the kids. Also, they've much more portable than a big cylinder.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:16 PM on July 30, 2011

Those big cylinders can fall over, knockoff their valves, shoot through the side of a plane and kill a man standing outside.

So make sure you are taking the right safety precautions. And don't breath the helium.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:38 AM on July 31, 2011

Also worth being aware of is that our supply of helium is finite and running out.

I don't think private citizens' use of helium for balloons should be restricted or discouraged. It's on a very small scale compared with the amounts used for industrial and scientific purposes.

And don't breath the helium.

Why not? It can be a lot of fun! Just get some fresh air in between.

Those big cylinders can fall over, knockoff their valves, shoot through the side of a plane and kill a man standing outside.

This is true: Gas bottles should be chained in an upright position. If the top knocks off a 200 bar bottle, it becomes an unguided missile, and they are also very dangerous in a fire. Check the regulations, and also make sure you don't ruin your insurance by keeping one in your home.
posted by springload at 1:39 AM on July 31, 2011

Also worth being aware of is that our supply of helium is finite and running out.

I have read that many times, but as long as there is natural gas extraction, there will be helium. helium is a decay product of naturally occurring radioactive materials in the Earth. The worry is that the use of helium could outpace the production of it. I don't think that situation is serious enough that private individuals should worry.
posted by Catfry at 2:29 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

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