Preparing the Body For Burial or Cremation

In most states, if a body will not be buried or cremated within 24 or 48 hours (depending on state laws), it must be properly preserved. The main methods of doing this are embalming and refrigeration, either of which the funeral home will be able to provide for you.

Basic features of embalming

  • The body is preserved through surgical removal of bodily fluids
  • The body can be preserved for up to a week or more
  • Generally more expensive than refrigeration
  • May be required by some funeral homes if a viewing or wake is to be held

To learn more about embalming, see our article Embalming.

Basic features of refrigeration

  • The body is preserved through controlled temperature
  • The body can be preserved for weeks
  • Generally less expensive than embalming
  • May be required by some states prior to cremation

To learn more about refrigeration, see our article Refrigerating the Body.

If you will be having a pre-funeral event or an open-casket funeral

If you will be having a pre-funeral event, such as a viewing or wake, or an open-casket funeral, the funeral home you are working with may require that the body be embalmed. If the body will be on display, you’ll also probably want the person to be made up and dressed nicely.

For more information on cosmetic restoration, see our article Cosmetically Preparing a Body.

Religious considerations when preparing the body

While embalming is a fairly common practice in the United States, many religions and cultures have strict prohibitions against embalming, while others are neutral on the practice. To learn about different religions' attitudes towards embalming, see our article Religious Perspectives on Embalming.

If you are planning a direct burial or direct cremation

If you will be having a direct burial or direct cremation, the funeral home will be able to refrigerate the body for you. Since the body will not be on display and will be buried or cremated very soon after the death, it will not need to be embalmed. As with embalming, there may be a cost for refrigerating the body.

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