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What happens to a worn out balloon?

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The fabric a balloon is made from is a very light weight Rip-Stop nylon or a polyester fabric. 


This fabric only weighs about 1.9 ounces per yard.  The fabric is very high strength and is coated with a Urethane or silicon coating to make it air tight.  As a balloon ages the coating on the fabric begins to break down and starts to come off the fabric.  This allows some of the air in the balloon to leak out of the balloon and that begins to break down the strength of the fabric.  By the end of a balloons life the fabric has very little strength left and air passes thru the fabric with very little resistance.  At this point the fabric has almost no useful purpose.  If you were storing a boat or a car in a warehouse the fabric may be used as a dust cover and that is about all.  If you used it outdoors it would last a few weeks before it would literally fall to pieces.  Since the coating has worn off of the fabric it would not even make a good drop cloth for painting since the paint would leak thru.  There simply is not much use for a worn out balloon.




The fabric part of the balloon is the actual aircraft!  It has registration numbers and an airworthiness certificate issued by the FAA and serial numbers and an FAA Registration.  SO…It still has value because of its identity so to speak.  It is still a certified aircraft.  In many cases the balloon can be rebuilt by removing the old fabric and sewing in new fabric.  This is also a huge savings in cost vs purchasing a new balloon.  There is also significantly less paperwork involved in this process than purchasing a new *envelope and pairing it with your *bottom end.  In many cases old balloons are stored for potential future rebuilding or sold to someone who will rebuild the Envelope. 


When we do discard a balloon it is generally destroyed.  We will cut off all of the attachment parts at the bottom of the balloon and remove all of the control lines from the inside and cut or remove the valve system in the top of the balloon.  We will also remove all of the identification marks and the ID Tags so that the balloon is completely unusable so there will be no chance of someone trying to fly it.  Even inflating a balloon on a windy day can have potentially life threatening consequences so we  completely disable the balloon.  At this point they are generally given a small service (We drink a couple of beers and talk about some of the more exciting flights) and place the balloon in a safe place (Landfill) and put a photo of it on the wall in our office.


*Envelope is the fabric part of the balloon. The Envelope is considered the aircraft and everything else is just parts.

*Bottom End is the basket, burners, fuel tanks and instruments


I hope I have given you a better understanding about what sounds like a simple question but is a little more complex than you may have thought.

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Here is a reply to the above email


Good morning, Jeff.


Thank you very much for your informative reply!  You're right.  I really had no idea.  I am going for my first balloon ride next month in CA and am looking forward to it.


That, however, is not the reason for my inquiry.  I do believe there could be many uses for the lightweight fabric previously used as a balloon.  For example, I work at the Clothing Closet (aka Thrift Shop) in Tarrytown, NY where we are looking for a very lightweight fabric to hide our inventory in the multi purpose room where we hold our clothing sales and the youth hold their meetings.  As the name infers, the room is used for other purposes, as well.  We also hold two annual events where tables are covered and other items, such as chairs and table storage racks, need to be stored out of sight.  Again, the lightweight fabric would be ideal.


Do you think after the service of a retired balloon (I'd hate to take away the opportunity for good story-telling and beer!) it might be possible to save it from a landfill and put it to uses as I've described above?


Thanks again for any information you can provide!

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My reply to this.


Here is the short answer


It is not necessary to read beyond this point unless you are still thinking about doing this.  If you are then proceed.


You are welcome to ask some Balloonist’s in your area if they are willing to give you an old envelope.  I promise you will not want it. 

Remember these things are flown about 500 times before they are worn out.  Often stored in their bag damp from the dew on the grass and drug on the ground at least twice each flight (During the Inflation and the deflation at the end of the flight)  Often they are faded, stink, dirty and tear easily. This means that your whole place will have a Mildew/Manure smell by morning.   Also think about where we land.  Many times we are out in Cow Pastures where the balloon often will get cow manure on it.  Don’t tell anyone you are covering their clothing with fabric that has cow dung on it.   As I have said, they are not suitable for any use when they are worn out.  You do not want it.


If you go to the website HotAirBalloonist.com you can use the Member Map to find a local balloon ride company in your area and contact them to see if they have anything they wish to give up.  You will have to find someone local since these balloons weigh between 150 and 300 pounds, so shipping one from anywhere would be very expensive. 


Do you have someone that can sew?  Keep in mind you will spend a lot of time cutting the fabric out of the balloon and then sewing it back together for your purpose.  The balloon has webbing sewn on it every few feet.  So you will have to cut the fabric out of the framework of the balloon this is a very labor intensive process. Keep in mind the fabric of the balloon is cut and sewn together to be round so it will not hang flat or straight.   I remember when I had a client who wanted me to remove the Velcro from the banners he was throwing away.  I asked him REALLY?  You want to pay me for four hours of work at a shop rate of $26.50 an hour to save $24 of Velcro?   I honestly believe you would be much better off going to a fabric store and purchasing a cheap taffeta or even linen and sew up what you want. 


Remember this is advice from someone who has been doing this for four decades.  You are welcome to ignore my advice. 


All the best


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