A colorful balloon arch can add excitement to a fun run, dance, or graduation. It’s fun, it’s festive, and it signals that the event is a cause for celebration! Ordering a professionally made balloon arch might be outside your school parent group’s budget, but the good news is you might be able to do it yourself. 

A do-it-yourself arch can be made inexpensively with a store-bought kit or with materials from a hardware store. Building a balloon arch does take time and effort, but these tips can help make the process easier. 

Why Make a Balloon Arch?

Balloon arches are often used in fun runs, with the arch representing the starting point or finish line. Students at Cortland (Ill.) Elementary started the PTO’s 2019 Dragon Dash by running under a balloon arch in school colors. 

PTOs and PTAs also use balloon arches at annual events like a dance or graduation ceremony for the top grade in the school or for big schoolwide events like back-to-school night or an end-of-the-year picnic. A balloon arch can frame a graduation stage or serve as a backdrop for dance photos. Because they’re big, bright, and are rarely seen at school, balloon arches have a way of transforming a school gym or cafeteria into a special space.

 

What About Helium?

The simplest way to make an arch from balloons is to string up helium balloons that rise on their own, but if you’ve bought balloons for a birthday party anytime recently, you may have noticed that helium prices have gone up. The price increase is tied to a helium shortage, and some people believe that helium should be saved for more important uses, like medical research. Helium balloons can be an affordable way to make a small arch, but may be too expensive for arches that take dozens of balloons to build.

 

What About Latex Allergies?

Before you spend any money, find out if your school has a latex allergy policy that prohibits latex balloons in the building. If you can’t bring latex balloons onto school property, use non-latex or mylar balloons.

 

How Many Balloons?

An arch can require 100 or more balloons—and you can count on some balloons popping accidentally as you build an arch, so buy more than you think you’ll need. According to a leader who is an experienced balloon arch builder, 12-inch balloons work best. Inflate the balloons more if you want a fuller look.

 

What’s the Best Way To Inflate the Balloons?

Manual balloon inflators sold in stores can be a lot of work, and inexpensive inflators don’t always function efficiently. A portable air compressor or an electric balloon pump will do the job much more effectively. Before buying one of these, ask around because you may be able to borrow a compressor or balloon pump from a school family. If you purchase a new balloon pump, look for one with two nozzles so that more than one person can inflate balloons at the same time. If you don’t want to tie a knot at the end of each balloon, look for small balloon clips that slip onto the end of balloons and keep them sealed.

 

Can We Inflate Them Ahead of Time?

Balloons will stay inflated for several days before starting to deflate. Inflating dozens of balloons takes a lot of time, but it can be made easier by breaking the job up over several days or recruiting older students to help. If you think your PTO will make a balloon arch again, make a note of how long it took to inflate the balloons to help with planning the next time. 

 

How Do We Make the Arch?

There are lots of options. You can buy a balloon arch kit or make an arch with supplies purchased at a hardware store or party supply store, depending on your budget and your comfort level with diy projects.

Balloon arch kits: Kits for making balloon arches are readily available online and at party supply stores. Before you buy, look for online reviews to see how easy or difficult the products are to use. Pay close attention to the size of the arch the kit is for so you don’t unintentionally buy a small tabletop arch when you want something people can walk under.

DIY balloon arch supplies: To make your own arch, you’ll need two bases, columns or connectors that fit into the base, and flexible material that spans the columns.

Bases can be made from:

  • Gym weight plates

  • Wood two-by-fours made into an X shape, weighed down with sandbags or paint cans filled with sand

  • Bases from a portable volleyball net or tetherball pole

  • A contractor’s bucket filled with concrete, with a connector or column placed in it before the concrete dries

  • Outdoor umbrella stand bases

PTA president Erica Hidalgo built X-shape bases with two-by-fours that have been reused for several balloon arches at Fox Run Elementary in San Antonio, Texas. She uses sand weights to hold the base in place. 

 

Some balloon arches have columns that are several feet tall to support the arch. Others have short connectors close to the base that can hold the ends of an arch. 

Columns can be made from:

  • PVC pipe and couplings

  • Metal plumbing pipe

  • Volleyball net pole or tetherball pole

  • Rebar pushed into the ground

The arch shape can be created using flexible PVC pipe (as in the photos below) or even bendable tent poles.

 

How Do We Put the Balloons on the Arch Structure?

This is another area where you have a lot of options. The methods mentioned by leaders include:

  • Placing balloons in balloon tape and wrapping it around the arch

  • Sewing fishing line through the knots in inflated balloons and fastening them to an arch with zip ties or circular clips

  • Using balloon connector clips that slide over the pole

  • Making balloon pairs by wrapping the tied ends together, then wrapping two balloon pairs around each other on the arch

  • Making four-balloon clovers and fastening them to the pole

How Do We Make a Four-Balloon Clover?

Take two balloons that have been inflated and had the ends tied off. Tie those balloons together by the tails by making a double-knot. If have a hard time making the double-knot, you can tie two balloons together with string instead.

Take two balloon pairs and twist them together to make a clover shape. Alternatively, you can tie the balloons together in a cross shape with some string or use plastic balloon arch clips that hold four balloons in place. If you use balloon arch clips, check that the diameter of the clips is large enough to slide over the arch structure.

 

How Many People Does It Take To Put a Balloon Arch Together?

Ask a few other people to help you put the pieces of the arch together. If you’re building a balloon arch for the first time and doing the work at home, keep in mind that you’ll need to take it apart and transport it to the event in a car or truck. 

If you inflated balloons at home ahead of time, it may take several cars or multiple trips to move them all to school. Placing balloons in large trash bags makes the process easier and may reduce the number of balloons that pop along the way.

 

How Can We Make a Balloon Arch With Swirls of Color?

To make this swirl, leader Shauna Walton alternated placing a balloon pair of white balloons on the arch with a balloon pair of one red and one black balloon. She fastened the balloons to the arch pole with round clips. As she placed the balloon pairs on the pole, she turned each layer the width of one balloon.

 

Are There Simpler Ways To Decorate With Balloons?

Of course! This school used the poles that hold volleyball nets to support a string of balloons and streamers. Sand bags kept the poles safely in place.

Balloon tape can be used to create a balloon garland that is pinned to a wall, or balloon streamers that are hung from a ceiling. Another option is to use fishing wire to hang strings of balloons from ceiling tiles. 

You can also make a standup balloon display by fastening balloons around PVC pipe.