Header Image
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

59 Models Considered
24 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
60 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for Best Chinese sky lanterns

If you've ever watched Disney's Tangled, you probably cried some happy tears when Flynn and Rapunzel sang "I See The Light." The scene does a wonderful job of capturing the magic of a night filled with Chinese sky lanterns.

Over recent years, these festive items have become increasingly popular. When shopping for a Chinese sky lantern, it’s helpful to understand what the different colors mean and which features you should expect in a quality model. It’s also wise to understand the potential hazards of using a Chinese sky lantern so you can take a responsible course of action.

For an honest look at these beautiful sky lanterns as well as a look at the precautions you must take when using them, keep reading. We’ll start by taking an in-depth look at what Chinese lanterns are as well as how they work. 

Get emails you’ll love.
Learn about the products you’re wondering if you should buy and get advice on using your latest purchases.
chinese sky lantern1
The Lantern Festival is a celebration that marks the end of the Chinese New Year. It takes place on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month. This date will always fall between February 5 and March 7.

Key considerations

What is a Chinese sky lantern?

A Chinese sky lantern is a mini hot air balloon. Most often, it is manufactured using little more than rice or tissue paper, wire, and a fuel source. While it has a deeper meaning in Asian cultures and represents reverent acts such as sending messages to the heavens, creating good luck, or opening up to receive enlightenment, in the U.S., it has become a popular trend to help heighten celebrations such as birthdays and weddings. Because releasing numerous Chinese sky lanterns is an overwhelmingly beautiful sight, it has been depicted in film, on TV, and in music videos.

How do Chinese sky lanterns work?

In short, a Chinese sky lantern has an open flame suspended by a wire, which is located beneath what is essentially an inverted paper bag. As the flame heats the air inside the paper container, the distance between the air molecules increases, making the heated air lighter than the cooler air outside the lantern. At a certain point, the sky lantern will start to ascend like air bubbles rising up through water.

Eventually, a floating sky lantern will reach an altitude at which the density of the air outside the lantern matches the density of the air inside of the lantern. It will remain at roughly that height until the fire burns out. Once that happens, the air inside the sky lantern will cool and become heavier. Eventually, it will descend back to earth.

What are the laws in your area?

Before pondering the finer points of purchasing a pack of Chinese sky lanterns, you need to know and understand the law in your area. For instance, if you release a sky lantern in California and it is responsible for a fire, you will likely be facing misdemeanor charges of negligently causing a fire. Worse, you could be found liable for damages, which would include the cost of fighting the fire, the cost of rescue services, and the cost of medical services. In Ohio, the misdemeanor carries a $1,000 fine and possible jail time. In other states, there might not be any restrictions. Therefore, it is up to the individual to know and understand the law in their area.

It takes a while for the air inside a Chinese sky lantern to heat up enough for the lantern to rise. Sometimes, this can be as long as two minutes.

STAFF
BestReviews

Features

Paper

You have several options when it comes to the type of paper in a Chinese sky lantern: rice paper, tissue paper, and coated paper are a few.  While some companies boast that their paper is durable and can be used again and again, chances are you will not be able to locate your sky lantern after it drifts away. Further, the more durable the paper is, the longer it will take to break down. Therefore, lanterns that are eco-friendly, biodegradable, and flame-resistant are frequently sought.

Wire

While the frame of a Chinese sky lantern may feature bamboo, wire is more common. Additionally, the area at the bottom of your sky lantern that holds the fuel needs to be made of non-flammable material, so wire must be used there as well. The trouble with wire is that it is not biodegradable, so the more wire a sky lantern contains, the less environmentally friendly it is. Hence, many consumers look for sky lanterns made with a minimal amount of wire.

Fuel

The fuel that burns and heats up the air so the lantern can rise is a little flat square that is essentially a candle. However, this is a special candle that is typically made using cotton and paraffin. It is specifically designed to have a short burn time.

Height and flight time

Some manufacturers claim that their sky lanterns can reach phenomenal heights and stay aloft for extended periods of time. However, the best sky lanterns have shorter flight times and stay relatively close to the ground (roughly 1,000 feet).

Size, shape, and design

While most Chinese sky lanterns are of a similar size and shape, some stand out as being larger, rounder, or unique in some other way. Most of this is purely for aesthetic reasons, but it is important to remember that the more air a sky lantern can contain, the higher it could potentially go.

Quantity

How many Chinese sky lanterns do you need? You can purchase these items in packs of 5, 10, 20, 30, or more.

What different colors symbolize

Traditionally, different lantern colors have different meanings.

  • Red may symbolize happiness, joy, positivity, and good luck.
  • Orange may symbolize adaptability, spontaneity, and change.
  • Yellow may symbolize royalty, honor, power, and prosperity.
  • Green may symbolize harmony, wealth, striving, and healing.
  • Blue may symbolize relaxation, trust, calmness, and optimism.
  • Purple may symbolize spiritual awareness, divinity, and immortality.
  • Pink may symbolize nurturing, love, and care.
  • White may symbolize mourning, purity, courage, and innocence.
  • Gold may symbolize wealth, riches, and prosperity.
chinese sky lantern2
DID YOU KNOW?
If you'd like to send a personal message up to the heavens, you can carefully write on your Chinese sky lantern with a soft-tipped writing implement such as a magic marker. Just be careful not to damage the paper, or it won't fly.
STAFF
BestReviews

Chinese sky lantern prices

At first glance, it may seem like the cost of Chinese sky lanterns varies a great deal. However, that is mostly because you can purchase them in varying quantities. If you break it down by price per item, you will quickly realize there is not much of a difference in cost between individual sky lanterns.

Lower cost: On the low end, nondescript white sky lanterns cost around $1 each.

Higher cost: Most sky lanterns cost no more than $2 or $2.50 each. For the slightly higher cost, you may find sky lanterns that are advertised as biodegradable as well as lanterns that feature a variety of colors, designs, and messages printed on the paper.

Besides size, the main difference between a Chinese sky lantern and a hot air balloon is that a hot air balloon has a pilot.

STAFF
BestReviews

Tips

There are some rules and risks to know about when using Chinese sky lanterns.

  • Take time to fully understand the laws and liabilities. This includes the financial obligations for covering the cost of damages in your area. There is always some risk. Even under optimum conditions, the hot air needed to keep a Chinese sky lantern aloft could escape prematurely, causing the lantern to fall to earth while still burning.
  • Avoid releasing a Chinese sky lantern if the wind speed is greater than 5 miles per hour. If the sky lantern tilts due to strong winds, the paper could catch fire and cause the unit to fall to earth while it is still burning.
  • Avoid releasing a Chinese sky lantern in the rain. Not only can rain weigh down the lantern, it may deteriorate biodegradable paper, causing the lantern to fall to earth while still burning.
  • Choose a release site that is open and free of obstacles. This includes trees, dwellings, and power lines.
  • Never release a Chinese sky lantern near the coast. The wire inside of the sky lantern can be hazardous to marine life. Further, the wire is not biodegradable and may pose a hazard to curious animals who stumble upon it.
  • The risk of starting a wildfire is real. Consider this before using a Chinese sky lantern, and teach children about safety precautions and risks as well.
chinese sky lantern3
You will know when it is time to release your Chinese sky lantern because you will feel it fighting to escape your grasp.

FAQ

Q. How long can a Chinese sky lantern float?

A. On average, a Chinese sky lantern will stay aloft for approximately 10 minutes. This is just a general estimate, as some may only function for eight minutes while others may last as long as 20 minutes.

Q. How high can a Chinese sky lantern go?

A. Generally, you can expect a Chinese sky lantern to reach an altitude of about 1,000 feet. However, some are designed to go much higher. A few manufacturers claim that their sky lanterns can reach 3,000 feet.

Q. How far will a Chinese sky lantern travel?

A. Under the right conditions, it is possible for a Chinese sky lantern to travel as far as 5 miles away. On average, however, it is usually closer to 2 miles. If the weather is exceptionally calm, you may even be able to follow a Chinese sky lantern on foot.

Q. Who invented the Chinese sky lantern?

A. There are several engaging origin stories revolving around the first use of a Chinese sky lantern. One of the most intriguing accounts dates back to the third century BC. A military strategist known as Kongming (which roughly translates to "intelligent") was surrounded by the enemy with no way to escape. He wrote a plea for help on a sky lantern and released it to the heavens. His plea was answered. This is why Chinese sky lanterns are also known as Kongming lanterns.

 

Other Products We Considered
The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
See more
Our Top Picks