The Embalming Process: What You Need to Know

Embalming is the process of preserving a person’s body after they pass in order to delay natural decomposition and to make cosmetic adjustments. Embalming is not permanent, and will only temporarily prevent the breakdown and decay of cellular tissues. This practice has existed for thousands of years and has been modified and refined over time as a commonly used funeral service.

How much does embalming cost?

The average cost of embalming is $700. This service is typically purchased if there will be open-casket services for the deceased such as a public viewing or visitation.

Is embalming required?

Before we discuss what happens during the embalming process, you may be wondering if embalming is ever a necessary service to opt in for, especially considering that the cost of embalming can run high.

Embalming is rarely required by state law and The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and many state regulators require that funeral directors inform you if embalming is or isn’t required in your state, so make sure to ask if it’s not a service you plan on purchasing in your funeral package.

There are some special cases which do exist regarding whether or not embalming is mandatory. For example, embalming is required when a body crosses state lines from Alabama and Alaska. In addition, California, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota and New Jersey also require embalming when a body is transported across state lines through a common carrier transport option, such as an airplane or train. 

Many funeral homes have a policy that requires embalming if there will be a public viewing of the deceased, so keep that in mind if cost is an issue for you.  You should ask your funeral home if they offer private family viewings without embalming. You should also know that direct or immediate burial, without embalming, must be offered by funeral homes by law.

Why purchase embalming services?

When it comes to funerals, the primary reason to have embalming performed is to prepare the body of the deceased for a public viewing such as open-casket visitation from family and friends. Embalming can give the deceased a more “life-like” appearance since there are many cosmetic touches introduced during the process.

The Embalming Process

If you’re planning on purchasing embalming in a funeral package, you may want to know what happens during the embalming process itself. Here, we’ve given an outline of the steps which occur during that process. Note that the procedure for embalming may vary slightly depending on the service provider.

  • Rigor mortis (stiffness) is relieved by massage and cream is used on the face and hands to keep the skin soft and pliable.
  • Facial features are set using a combination of cotton, gauze and sutures. Glue may be used on occasion to keep the eyes and mouth closed in a respectful pose. Any facial hair is either shaved off entirely or neatened upon request.
  • After cosmetic details are taken care of, arterial embalming begins by injecting embalming fluid into an artery as blood is drained from a vein. This fluid is usually a mixture of formaldehyde and water.
  • After arterial embalming, cavity embalming begins. A long, pointed, metal tube known as a “trocar” is attached to a suction hose which the embalmer uses to puncture certain organs, such as the stomach and bladder. Gas and fluids are withdrawn from the body before a stronger mix of embalming fluid is further injected. Incisions and holes made in the body are sewn closed and the body is washed and dried.
  • Nails are manicured and any missing facial features are molded from wax. Makeup is also used on the face and hands for appearances and any head hair is appropriately styled.
  • Finally, the body gets dressed and placed in the casket you’ve chosen.