How Long Does the Effect of Embalming Last on a Body?


When my grandfather passed, I, like many others who have lost loved ones, had reservations about seeing his body at the funeral. How would the embalming procedure ensure he looked like the same handsome and loving grandpa I’d known all my life? When would the effect of embalming wear off?

The effect of embalming lasts roughly one week after the procedure is done before the body begins to decay. However, it isn’t until decades after the burial that the body fully decomposes. The quality of the casket and soil conditions at the burial site can also contribute to decomposition rates.

In the remainder of this article, I will look at the bodily decomposition rates and the factors that can play a role in slow or fast physical decay, as well as the embalming process itself. Additionally,  I will discuss some advantages and disadvantages of the embalming procedure. Keep reading to learn more. 

Decomposition Rates and How Embalming Affects Them

There are a few other factors aside from embalming chemicals that can affect the rate of bodily decomposition. However, before we get into those, let’s look at the embalming process itself and how it affects the body. 

The Embalming Procedure and How It Works

After death, bodies are transferred to a funeral home where they are taken care of by funeral home staff. This care involves embalming the body in preparation for the funeral service, which typically happens within the week following a death.

Bodies are washed and disinfected before having their arteries drained of blood and replaced with formaldehyde (the most common chemical used for embalming procedures). The body’s cavities will also be emptied and filled with embalming fluid. This fluid is what helps preserve the body’s natural look. 

Unless the body is embalmed again after a short time, the embalming chemicals will begin to wear off after seven days. By this time, usually, the cadaver is either buried or cremated. Fortunately, one week is the standard length of time for embalming and funeral services to be prepared. 

The body’s limbs are massaged to give them a more lively look by distributing the embalming fluids. The embalmer will also place blocks beneath the legs and head, arrange the hands, and suture the jaw and lips closed as a part of the embalming procedure.

Other Factors That Affect Decomposition Rates

Regardless of a body’s embalming status, there are other things that will slow down or boost the body’s rate of decomposition. 

For example, the external environment plays a significant role in either facilitating or slowing down the body’s decay. To put it simply: Hot weather accelerates, and cold weather decelerates. 

In cases where the external environment is relevant (i.e., if a deceased body is outside and not stored in a funeral home), there is a higher potential for insects and animals to scavenge the body. This kind of damage will speed up the decomposition process. 

Additionally, warmer temperatures encourage the growth of bacteria and quicker decomposition, while colder temperatures freeze the body and decelerate its decay.

The rate of decomposition also depends on the bodily structure of the deceased individual. A smaller individual will decompose faster, while it would take longer for the total decay of someone with a large frame. 

Finally, if the body is buried, the rate of decomposition can be slowed. Burial provides the body with protection from environmental damage. 

On average, it takes approximately one and a half months for the body’s organs and tissues to decompose. After the flesh and organs decompose, the skeletal remains can take more than 50 years to disintegrate fully!

The embalming slows down the deterioration of the body to keep it natural and peaceful for funeral viewing services. However, it doesn’t stop the decay completely, nor does it replicate your loved one’s appearance exactly. 

Protecting the body from the environment and having it embalmed is the most efficient way to slow the process of decomposition. Slowing this process is one of several advantages to having your loved one embalmed prior to death. 

Wooden coffin with funeral flowers in crematorium

The Advantages of Embalming

Besides slowing the rate of decomposition, there are other advantages to choosing to have your loved one embalmed. Primarily, embalming the body keeps your loved one looking natural, which is very important for open-casket funerals. 

Unfortunately, death produces changes in the appearance of all bodies. However, the process of embalming helps to keep your loved one looking similar to the way they looked when living. The natural appearance can help those still living to remember their loved ones in a peaceful, positive way.

Another advantage to embalming is that the process allows for extra time to plan a funeral service. Amidst the sorrow of losing a loved one, this additional time can be incredibly beneficial to grieving family members. 

The Disadvantages of Embalming

Having your loved one embalmed might not be the right decision, so it’s essential to gather all of the procedure’s facts, including the disadvantages.

As I mentioned previously, embalming fluid will not restore the deceased’s body to the natural, lively appearance that you remember. So, having your loved one embalmed simply to have them look like the same person in your memories is not advised. 

This is because the living body and the deceased (and embalmed) body have different internal substances that embalming cannot replicate. While a living body’s circulatory system pumps blood, the deceased and embalmed circulatory system is injected with embalming chemicals. 

Embalming procedures may also go against certain religions and death traditions. Because the process of death and dying is highly spiritual, any alteration to a deceased body can negatively impact the spiritual customs of some religious death ceremonies. 

In Muslim, Jewish and Iranian religions, for example, practitioners typically frown upon the embalming process; they consider it to be damaging to the body and thus interfere with religious customs

Concluding Thoughts

It is common to feel nervous about what to expect at an open-casket funeral or apprehensive about how the funeral staff will prepare your loved one for viewing. 
Various comprehensive funeral guides, such as those at 4Funeral.com, are beneficial when mustering up the strength to face death. They answer many questions about the burial and cremation processes. With the proper guidance, your loved one’s funeral proceedings will run as smoothly, peacefully, and lovingly as possible.

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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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