What is embalming (and do you have to do it)?

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If you haven’t had to arrange a funeral before, you may not have ever thought about embalming. It’s completely normal to not know much about the process and when it’s recommended. To help you figure out if embalming is the right choice for you, we’ve put together this guide.

What is embalming?

Embalming is when a body is preserved using chemicals to slow down its natural decomposition after death. It delays the breakdown of cells in the body so that family and friends of the person who passed away can spend more time with them before saying goodbye.

What does embalming involve?

The embalming process involves adding chemical solutions into the body that will preserve it for longer. They can be a mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol and phenol. They’re used because they not only preserve the body, but can also improve the appearance of the person’s skin and help with any other effects caused by their death. It allows their family and friends to see them and remember them in a more peaceful and restful way.

How long does embalming take?

The embalming process can take around 2-4 hours. During this time the professionals at the funeral home can also wash the person and take care of their hair.

Why are bodies embalmed?

When someone dies, they can look different. And this can often be a shock for family and friends who want to see them. Embalming can help restore the way the person looks and make them look more peaceful. This can be comforting for those closest to the person who’s passed away.

A family might also choose to have a loved one embalmed after they’ve died because it will allow them to spend more time together before they’re buried or cremated. They might choose to have a viewing or visitation at a chapel of rest, or they might keep their loved one in an open coffin at home until the funeral. This can allow them to say goodbye to the person and give them some closure, helping them grieve.

How long does embalming last?

After embalming it’s recommended not to keep the person at home or outside of special refrigeration for longer than a week.

Do you have to be embalmed?

No, it’s not a legal requirement in the UK. You can be buried or cremated without being embalmed. Embalming is only a legal requirement when a body has to be repatriated back to the UK ahead of the funeral.

Embalming is a personal choice. Deciding if it’s right for a loved one will depend on a lot of factors, such as if you want to see them ahead of the funeral or if your religious beliefs don’t allow it. Or if, for example, you’d like to have a green funeral, embalming isn’t recommended because the chemicals that are used can pollute the soil.

So make sure you talk this through with your funeral director before making a decision. If you don’t want to have a loved one embalmed or you just don’t think it’s necessary, this is completely fine. You should never feel any pressure to have the embalming process done.

Can you view a body that’s not embalmed?

Yes, you can. Embalming isn’t necessary if don’t want to do it. The funeral director will still take care of the person in a similar way. They’ll wash them and take care of their hair and dress them. But they’ll be kept refrigerated before any visitations and before the funeral takes place.

You can still choose to have the person who’s died at home if they’re not embalmed too. The funeral director will make sure that you know how best to keep the room that they’re in as cool as possible. And they’ll organise the funeral service for as soon as possible too, preferably within a few days.

Hopefully this has helped you figure out if embalming is necessary for the funeral you’re planning. We have lots of other articles to help you with the details of organising a funeral in our advice centre. And if you’re looking for a funeral director, we also have a free directory that’ll help you find a funeral director near you.