Which Is Safer to Use in Hot Air Balloons: Hydrogen or Helium?

Hot air balloons have captured the imagination of people for centuries, offering a unique and awe-inspiring way to take to the skies. Central to the operation of these majestic vessels is the choice of lift gas used to fill the balloon envelope. The two most commonly used gases for this purpose are hydrogen and helium. Hydrogen, being lighter than air, provides superior lift capacity compared to helium. However, it’s use isn’t without risks. What sets helium apart from hydrogen is it’s non-combustible nature, eliminating the risk of fire and explosion.

Is Safer to Use Hydrogen Than Helium in a Balloon?

Helium is a noble gas that’s chemically inert, which means it doesn’t readily react with other substances. This property makes it a safe choice for filling balloons. On the other hand, hydrogen, although also a gas, is highly flammable. It can react with oxygen in the air to form water, releasing a significant amount of energy in the process. This makes hydrogen-filled balloons potentially dangerous, as any ignition source can lead to an explosive reaction.

In the context of balloon usage, safety is paramount, especially when considering large gatherings or events where numerous balloons are present. Helium-filled balloons offer peace of mind as they don’t carry the risk of combustion. Such an incident couldn’t only harm individuals nearby but also potentially cause damage to property or ignite other flammable materials.

Helium is easily obtainable from natural gas reserves, and it’s supply is relatively stable. In contrast, hydrogen must be produced by either electrolysis, a process that requires energy and can be expensive, or by steam-reforming natural gas, which releases greenhouse gases. The controlled distribution and well-regulated supply chain for helium ensure that it’s readily available for balloon filling, reducing the likelihood of unsafe alternatives being used.

As an alternative, hydrogen gas could potentially be used instead of helium for various applications. However, the safety concerns associated with hydrogen’s reactivity to air, leading to potential explosions, render it unsuitable for widespread usage. In contrast, helium, being a noble gas, doesn’t undergo chemical reactions with other gases. Hence, the inherent safety of helium usage necessitates it’s preference over hydrogen for various practical purposes.

Why Don’t We Use Hydrogen Instead of Helium?

Hydrogen, as a gas, possesses several advantages that make it an appealing alternative to helium. It’s abundantly available, highly efficient, and emits minimal pollution when used as a fuel. One of the key concerns is it’s reactivity with air, which can lead to potentially hazardous circumstances.

On the contrary, helium, being a noble gas, doesn’t readily react with any other gases. This inertness makes it a much safer option, particularly when used in applications that require stable and non-reactive conditions. For instance, helium is extensively utilized in scientific experiments, medical imaging, and as a coolant in cryogenics, where it’s non-reactive nature plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety of personnel and equipment.

Efforts are being made to develop safer hydrogen storage and transportation methods, as well as systems to effectively mitigate the risks associated with it’s reactivity. These advancements, alongside increased understanding and awareness of hydrogens properties, may someday lead to a safer and broader utilization of this versatile gas in various sectors.

The inertness of helium, it’s low density, and diverse range of uses have solidified it’s position as a safer option.


In the debate over which gas is safer to use in hot air balloons, hydrogen or helium, it’s clear that helium stands as the preferred choice due to it’s non-combustible nature. While hydrogen is lighter than air and can provide efficient lift, it’s high flammability and the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere pose a significant risk of explosion and fire. This makes it the ideal choice for filling balloons, ensuring a safer and more secure experience for those involved.