Yes, crazy as it sounds you can pop a balloon by peeling an orange near it. But Why?

When you peel the orange an oil, called limonene, squirts out from the orange peel onto the balloon and dissolves the rubber, which causes the balloon to burst.

What is Limonene and How does it Pop a Balloon?

Limonene is the same type of compound that some balloons are made from – they are both hydrocarbons. “Like dissolves like” is how chemists like to to put it. Limonene gets in between the hydrocarbon chains that the balloon is made from, this weakens the structure of the balloon and it pops.

Why does Limonene pop balloons? – An Analogy to help you understand…

One way to think of it is to use an analogy of spaghetti for the hydrocarbon chains that make up the balloon. Imagine cooking spaghetti. When you are cooking it and there is a lot of water around the spaghetti is very loose, separated by the water. When you drain the water away from the spaghetti it is much more clumped up and sticks together. The balloon is like spaghetti when the water is drained away, the hydrocarbon chains are all clumped together. When you squeeze the limonene out of orange peel onto the surface of a balloon, it is like adding water back to the spaghetti – the spaghetti strands become loose and separated, they are not holding together anymore. The spaghetti of the balloon (the hydrocarbon chains) are separated by the water (the limonene), which weakens the balloon and it pops!

Out of interest – I have used the spaghetti analogy before here for the structure of balloons in my explanation of how you can put a skewer through a balloon without popping it.

Why does Limonene only Pop Some Balloons?

Limonene will only pop balloons made from natural rubber that has not been vulcanised. Vulcanisation is a process used to join strands of rubber together to make the rubber stronger. It works! Limonene will not pop balloons made from vulcanised rubber.

If you would like to know more about vulcanisation, please check out my post here about how to put a skewer through a balloon without popping it: I have used the spaghetti analogy before for balloons.

How to Choose a Balloon that Limonene will Pop!

Most balloons these days are made from vulcanised rubber, so will not pop if squirted with the limonene in orange peel.

Water balloons, designed to be thrown at people and burst easily (sometimes!) on impact, are not vulcanised, so these balloons will pop when orange peel is squeezed at them. We found they still didn’t burst if they weren’t blown up very much – the rubber needs to be stretched quite thin for best results.

Can a Lemon pop a Balloon?

Lemon peel contains limonene just like an orange does. So yes, it will pop a balloon! Why not try the experiment using other citrus fruits and see what happens. Perhaps try some other oils at home too, like vegetable oil or baby oil; see what works and what doesn’t. Why is that?

Further Reading

If you would like to know more, check out this page, where a professor of chemistry goes into molecular details about this interaction of limonene and balloon rubber.

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