When a body is embalmed, the bodily fluids are removed and are replaced with formaldehyde-based chemical solutions that will delay decomposition. Then the body is cosmetically prepared for viewing by styling the hair, applying makeup, and setting the facial features.
Reasons For Choosing Embalming
Embalming is often employed when the body will be on display for a viewing or wake, if there will be an open casket at the funeral, or when the body will be transported long distances or over national borders. Arguments are often made that embalming is used as a sanitary or public health safety measure to prevent the spread of disease, however this reasoning has never been substantiated by any scientific study and has been widely discredited.
The cost of embalming is generally two-fold: the cost of the embalming itself, and the cost of what is generally referred to as “other preparation of the body,” which includes cosmetics, hairdressing, clothing the body, and placing the body in the casket. These prices are often listed separately on a General Price List, though if you opt for embalming you will generally be charged for both. Embalming generally ranges in price from $500-$800.
If you wish to have the body embalmed in an environmentally and healthfully safe way, traditional embalming fluid can be replaced with non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, formaldehyde-free embalming fluid, which is often made from biodegradable essential oils. Not only does this protect the health of the embalmer, but it also does not add harmful chemicals to the earth once the body is buried and disintegrating. If you are interested in green embalming, make sure that the funeral home you're working with offers this alternative.
To find a green funeral home, use our resource Guide: Finding a Green Funeral Home.
Many funeral homes require that a body be embalmed if it is to be on view (that is, if you will be holding a viewing, visitation, or wake), but you should know that legally embalming is almost never necessary and will not preserve the body forever.
Under the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule:
- Funeral providers may not provide embalming services without your permission
- May not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming
- Must disclose that embalming is not required by law, except in special cases
- Must disclose that for certain funeral arrangements the funeral home may require embalming, making it a required purchase
To learn about alternatives to embalming, see our article Refrigerating the Body.
Religious Or Cultural Considerations
While embalming is a fairly common practice in the United States, many religions and cultures have strict prohibitions against embalming. If you will be observing any religious customs at the funeral, check with your local religious leader to see if embalming is an acceptable method of body preservation, or see our article Religious Perspectives on Embalming.
For explicit details on the embalming procedure, see our article The Embalming Process (Explicit).