Sealed vs. Unsealed Caskets: What Are the Main Differences

The number of decisions that need to be made when planning a funeral is intimidating for anyone. Even in situations where the deceased made their wishes known, few will pay for and design their own send-offs, leaving their loved ones to throw together a ceremony quickly. 

People rarely know the differences between a sealed and unsealed casket outside the funeral industry. Choosing one over the other is essential for the burial itself and the long-term environmental impact. Knowing about both is helpful when selecting a coffin.

This article will address the differences between sealed and unsealed caskets. We will also look into burials in the modern-day and alternatives that might be preferable for some families. 

Do All Bodies Have To Be Buried in a Casket?

Coffins are one of the most costly elements of a funeral, costing thousands of dollars. Since few laws exist dictating what is acceptable for burial, and most funeral homes only demand a container, families are free to choose any receptacle they like. 

Not all bodies have to be buried in a casket. You might be surprised to know that caskets are not required in most states. Laws allow bodies to be buried with or without a container. However, many cemeteries have a policy about using some form of burial box, though it doesn’t have to be a coffin. 

Searching your local area will often bring up ads for people who craft simple wooden burial boxes. These are free of added chemicals, polishes, and sealants, making them more eco-friendly. They cost an average of $200 and can be customized to the length and width of your loved one. 

Since most people fall within the 5’5 to 6’0 range within the United States, standard sizes will work for most. It is a great way to meet the policies of cemeteries while maintaining a modest budget.

Why Are Some Caskets Sealed and Others Unsealed?

Caskets not being required doesn’t mean they don’t have their place in modern funerals. Many choose a coffin to honor the dead and feel better knowing their loved one has been buried in something high-quality and lasting. But is a sealed or unsealed burial box preferred?

Some caskets are sealed so that they can only be opened using special tools, and others are unsealed, so dirt and water can find their way inside over time. Other than that, there are no other significant differences.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each to see why you might choose one over the other. 

Sealed Caskets


  • The airtight seal protects the casket’s interior, giving it a longer life. 
  • Insects will be unable to burrow in with the body.
  • Fluids from the body’s decomposition are contained within the casket, which might be preferable to some.


  • Due to the seal, gasses from the body will gather with no way to be released, causing the coffin to expand like a balloon. 
  • Traces of metal and chemicals have been found in some graveyards with a higher number of sealed caskets. 
  • Caskets don’t break down naturally, making them less eco-friendly. 

Unsealed Caskets


  • Gasses are released, keeping the casket from expanding. 
  • Due to the open seal, bodies decompose at a slower rate.
  • Over time, most caskets will biodegrade as long as certain chemicals and epoxies are not used. 


  • The casket will not last as long as a sealed casket.
  • Fluids from the body will leak into the soil; however, the WHO has shown in multiple studies that this is not harmful to public health.

Do Sealed Caskets Minimize Decomposition?

There is a common misconception that sealed caskets minimize decomposition. This leads to many families choosing this style for their loved one’s remains. 

Sealed caskets do not minimize decomposition. The opposite is true; all embalmed bodies will decompose, but sealed caskets lead to faster decomposition. This is due to the gasses that gather in the coffin with nowhere to escape. 

The fluids from the body will also remain in the casket rather than leaking into the soil where they are buried. Since bodies offer no threats to public health and remains are biodegradable by nature, some experts argue that unsealed caskets are better for the environment. 

The only exception is in the case of specific dangerous viral or bacterial agents. In cases where the deceased died of a highly contagious disease carried within the body after death, sealed caskets are used as alternatives to protect the public from contagions. 

This is relatively rare due to many diseases failing to thrive following death, and people are encouraged to choose cremation in instances where it is. 

Closeup shot of a colorful casket in a hearse or chapel before funeral or burial at cemetery

Can You Have a Viewing With a Sealed Casket?

You can have a viewing with a sealed casket. Sealed caskets are treated the same as unsealed until the point of burial. If you wish to have a viewing, there is no reason you couldn’t do so. The top portion would remain open through the ceremony, then closed before transportation to burial. 

Viewings are set up with the funeral director when choosing your package. A closed casket viewing is also possible, where the coffin is displayed but the body has been sealed inside. Embalming is required by most funeral homes for an open casket viewing

Some homes allow an open casket if the event is held within a set time where refrigeration can effectively protect the body from decomposition. This is an important question to ask when interviewing funeral directors and helps families select the right venue for burial. 

How Do You Open a Sealed Casket?

Sealed caskets are meant to be closed permanently, so one would rarely have to be opened. Exhumation is usually done to move the body to another location or plot. On rare occasions, it could be required for legal reasons, such as in testing a body following a funeral. 

You can open a sealed casket with a casket key if an unusual circumstance occurs where a sealed casket must be opened. These keys pop the seal holding the lid down. Once a gasket seal has been broken, you cannot reseal it as effectively. 

Opening a sealed casket is not a job done by a layman. If necessary, a professional will pop the lid open and allow the gasses to disperse before the remains are extracted. This must be done carefully, as those gasses will cause extensive bloating and decomposition. 

In very unusual circumstances, especially when a body is placed in a mausoleum, gas expansion can lead to the body exploding. Trained staff will take action to minimize these risks.  

What Environmental Impacts Do Sealed and Unsealed Caskets Have?

As mentioned above, there are environmental factors involved in burials. As the population grows, so do death rates, which leads to an increase in the number of buried bodies. It has had an inevitable impact on the environment and has led to many questioning the current practices standard in the burial industry.

The environmental impacts that both sealed and unsealed caskets have are considerable, but sealed caskets have a more significant environmental impact than unsealed caskets. The body will decompose faster with sealed caskets, which protect the coffin, not the body. 

Choosing a simpler casket is more eco-friendly. There are no adverse effects on public health, so there is no reason to seal away the body. 

The fewer chemicals, sealants, polishes, and epoxies used on a coffin, the faster it will break apart and become a part of the local biome. Researchers are beginning to encourage this over traditional burial common in the Western world. 

Additionally, burial grounds are taking up more and more space as the years go by. One option for those who are environmentally-conscious is to purchase a biodegradable casket, which stops the traditional burial from harming the planet.

Do You Have to Embalm a Body in a Sealed Casket?

You do not have to embalm a body in a sealed casket. Embalming will keep a body from decomposing as quickly in most circumstances. However, the rate increases dramatically with the gathering of gasses in a sealed casket. This makes embalming unnecessary.

The practice of embalming was not always a common one. When President Abraham Lincoln died, they preserved his body in order to tour the country. This put embalming on the nation’s radar, though it was already happening across the nation. 

During the Civil War, soldiers who died on the battlefield were retrieved, preserved, and sent home to their families for proper burial. Refrigeration would eventually replace this trend, allowing the deceased to stay fresh long enough for a funeral, but embalming remained common. 

The truth is that it is no longer a necessary step and has a marked negative effect on the environment. It is also an involved process that leaves little dignity for the departed. No laws require it to be done.

Cost Breakdown of Sealed and Unsealed Casket Burials

Cost is a significant factor in what you choose for a funeral, and caskets make up a good chunk of the final price tag. Materials, features, style, and model will increase or decrease that price and can run you anywhere up to $10,000, with the average cost being $2,500 to $5,000. 

Sealed caskets cost more than unsealed caskets. This is only in part because of the gasket. Made of specialized rubber, the gasket itself is not expensive to make. But having one can add $200 or more to your bill and requires sturdier materials. 

In order to maximize the longevity of the coffin, sealed caskets are usually made of metal. Even if made of wood, they will have a metal cover to protect the wood. The price difference between metal versus wooden coffins is steep, as are the additional features sealed caskets frequently offer. 

Because containers of some kind are required by policy for most cemeteries but are not legally necessary, you have more options than you might realize. Instead of a traditional casket, you can purchase more basic burial boxes online or from local woodworkers that are perfectly acceptable alternatives. 

Cremation vs. Burial: Which Is Better?

Cremation is a better option for many, especially nowadays, but burial is still a popular choice. Whether you choose burial or cremation depends on the wishes of those who pass. Many choose to be buried to give their families a place to visit after they move on. 

Cremation is becoming more popular by the year as the costs associated with burial increase, and the environmental impact becomes more of a concern. At a fraction of the price, loved ones can select urns, mini urns, and even jewelry or figurines that contain the ashes of the departed. It keeps those who have passed close to them, wherever they are. 

If a public place to mourn is still desired, purchase a slot in a columbarium to display the primary urn. A columbarium is a wall, room, or mausoleum where ashes are interred. A plaque is hung in place of a headstone. Many cemeteries offer benches to sit and visit with the deceased, and these cubbies are much more affordable than full burial plots. 

While one isn’t better than the other, it can be a budget-friendly way to honor those who have gone before while giving a more personal way to display or carry the ashes, even for multiple people. 

If you choose a cremation, ask your funeral director about the many options for ashes. You can find matching miniature and large urns in sets, purchase jewelry or other trinkets and ask the crematorium or funeral home staff to place them safely in each before the ceremony. That way, you can always feel close to the one you love and miss. 

Save Money on a Funeral by Buying the Casket Online

Final Thoughts

When it comes to burying a loved one, there is no right or wrong way. Knowing your options and differences in equipment like sealed and unsealed caskets is helpful. You can plan the perfect farewell for the deceased that honors them and provides comfort to the living.

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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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