Why Do Funeral Homes Smell Strange? Full Explanation

If you have ever been to a funeral home, a few things probably stood out. Not only are there caskets and flowers all over, but you may also notice a strange smell that may vary from one funeral home to another. Where does the smell come from?

Funeral homes smell strange due to the smells resulting from the many operations taking place there. The strange smell of funeral homes may consist of embalming chemicals, flowers, perfumes, and the sickly-sweet scent given off by a dead body. 

The rest of this post will go into more detail about funeral home smells. It’ll also cover what funeral homes are doing to minimize smells, so be sure to stick around to the end.  

What Makes Funeral Homes Smell Strange?

Funeral homes smell strange because of the chemicals, decomposing bodies, and scents used to cover up foul odors. Things like fresh flowers and wood are commonly smelled throughout a funeral home on any given day.

Here’s a roundup of the potential sources of strange smells in funeral homes.

Embalming Chemicals

While visiting a funeral home, you may notice the smell of chemicals. Normally, this smell should not be overpowering because the embalming process has come a long way to help prevent the deceased from smelling strongly of chemicals. 

Still, the smell of embalming chemicals can mix with other scents in the funeral home to create a strange odor. This odor is usually a mixture of these other scents and the embalming fluid’s primary ingredient: formaldehyde.

Though smelling embalming fluid can be unpleasant, there is usually no danger until it comes in contact with our skin. Still, it can leave a lingering odor even after morticians put it in a body.

Fresh Flowers and Perfumes

You will find a fair share of fresh flowers whenever you visit a funeral home. Family, friends, and colleagues send flowers to funeral homes on the funeral service day.

Funeral homes can host more than one funeral service per day in highly populated areas. So, when visiting a funeral home, there is a good chance you will smell fresh flowers. 

Even if there are no flowers in sight, you may still smell something else. Some funeral homes use perfumes in the air to mask other unpleasant scents. They typically choose light scents meant to comfort guests entering the funeral home, and perfumes are a perfect way to accomplish this.

A Mix of Different Odors

Funeral homes do not always have one overpowering scent that you smell as soon as you enter. Instead, the strange smell associated with these places results from many different aspects of death that linger.

Technology and scientific research have come a long way in ensuring that funeral homes don’t smell too strong. Many funeral homes have taken it upon themselves to help mask unwanted odors with perfumes and fresh flowers constantly flowing through the air.

The regulations for handling the deceased have also severely impacted the overall odor. So while funeral homes still smell strange, the smell is more of a mix of different chemicals, perfumes, and flowers than a foul odor. 

View inside funeral home with couches and chairs

How Do Funeral Homes Keep Strong Smells Away?

Funeral homes that embalm the deceased and perform cremations take special care to ensure their building does not carry strong smells. They use adequate ventilation and other perfumes to cover the scents of preserving or burning the deceased.

Let’s discuss these measures in greater detail. 

Proper Ventilation

Smells passing through a funeral home would certainly be bad for business. No one wants to spend time in a place that smells like death and chemicals. So, funeral homes often have strong ventilation systems that ensure strong smells don’t stick around. 

Formaldehyde is one of the few chemical ingredients in embalming fluid. Over the years, scientists have linked exposure to formaldehyde to various health issues. So, funeral homes require a proper ventilation system to keep the smell manageable and keep their employees safe. 

They must keep an appropriate air change rate, ensuring that morticians repeatedly receive fresh air throughout the embalming process. This helps clear the air of formaldehyde to prevent any potential health issues that the chemical can cause.

Embalming Early

There is currently no law requiring families to agree to embalm their deceased loved ones. However, state laws indicate a timeframe the family has to decide how they want the body of their loved one handled. In most cases, states recommend that the family choose to embalm the body within 24 to 48 hours after death. 

Morticians prefer to embalm the body even sooner. It is important to know that embalming doesn’t stop the decomposition process, but it does slow it down. So, the sooner a body is embalmed, the longer it will remain preserved. 

When a mortician embalms a body within 24 hours after death, this delays the decomposition process and prevents the body from beginning major decay right away. Within the first 24 hours of death, the body will not have a strong scent. So, this is a great way to prevent the funeral home from smelling like decomposition as morticians delay the process quickly. 

Cremation Temperatures

Modern cremation chambers can reach a temperature of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1093.33 degrees Celsius). These high temperatures help with the odor that comes with burning a body. 

Historically, cremations smelled very strong because of the lack of high temperatures. Back then, morticians used coal to burn bodies. This method was effective, but it slowed down the process. 

Since the 1960s, we have been developing more effective ways to burn bodies. Now, we have a more effective way to burn bodies in a short amount of time using high temperatures. Because of the high temperatures involved, there is very little odor emitted from the cremation chamber unless you are right next to it. 

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Final Thoughts

Unless you work there, you may dread going into a funeral home for any reason. If you do enter, you may notice a strange smell passing through each room. This is an almost universal experience with funeral homes as there are many things in the building that can cause different scents. 

Overall, funeral homes do their best to provide a comfortable experience for guests by covering any foul smells with perfumes and fresh flowers. Still, a funeral home will smell strange because of the many different odors coming together. 


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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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