Is Embalming Necessary?

In the US embalming is rarely legally required.   The purpose of embalming is to slow the process of decomposition, however in many instances refrigeration does just as good a job.    Refrigeration can slow the process by days, whereas the embalming process can slow it by weeks.   Here is some basic info:

Embalming is an invasive procedures involving formaldehyde, and actually the formaldehyde has been found to increase risk of cancer in those working with it.  Again, refrigeration can temporarily slow the decomposition process and is far more eco-friendly than embalming.  Another option if you wish a more eco-friendly solution, is to request embalming be done with a product known as Enigma.  If you are opting for a home funeral, you can also opt to use dry ice.    

If you are considering embalming for yourself or a loved one, you should consider the following points:  

  • Eliminating this service can save you hundreds of dollars.
  • Embalming is not often required by law, except in special cases.  The Federal Trade Commission and many state regulators require that funeral directors inform consumers that embalming is not required except in certain special cases.   According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, a funeral provider:

-cannot provide embalming services without permission.
– cannot falsely state that embalming is required by law
– must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law, except in certain special
– can’t charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless embalming is required by state
law (California requires embalming when a body is shipped by common carrier).
– must disclose in writing that you usually have the right to choose a disposition, such as
direct cremation and direct burial, that does not require embalming if you do not want
this service.
– must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing,
may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase.

  • Cccording to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control embalming does not provide a public health safety benefit. In fact, Hawaii forbids embalming if the person died of certain types of contagious diseases. Unfortunately, many morticians have been taught that embalming protects the public health, and in turn they perpetrate this misinformation.
  • Embalming allows a hefty funeral home up-sell, often by as much as $3,000 and up, for additional body preparation, a more expensive “protective” casket,  more expensive outer burial container, and a more elaborate  ceremonies.
  • Private & home viewings can be held without embalming, and is far more “traditional”.
  • Ambient temperature has a stronger impact on the decomposition process than the passage of time after death, regardless of whether a body has been embalmed or not.
  • Embalming is a physically invasive process wherein chemicals & implants are used to give an appearance of restful repose. Waxy white color of the dead body is coated in a more life-like tone with dyes in the embalming fluid.
  • Embalming uses formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. OSHA requires embalmers to wear a respirator & full-body covering during the procedure, yet funeral home effluent isn’t regulated, and waste is flushed into the common sewer system or septic tank.
  • Embalming isn’t tied to the Christian religion and is considered desecration of the body by orthodox Jewish and Muslim religions. Hindus and Buddhists choose cremation, which doesn’t require embalming.
  • While some people may be comforted by “a beautiful memory picture,”a 1990 survey indicated that 32% of consumers reported that viewing was a negative experience.


Embalming, dressing & cosmetology are usually one charge, and can vary dramatically, by more than 150%.   The actual prices can tack over $1000 onto your funeral bill, whereas sheltering a body through refrigeration for a few days can be done for a cost of anywhere from $0 to several hundred dollars.

Before automatically assuming you will choose embalming for yourself or a loved one, consider these facts.  Also consider the impact on the environment, as the body eventually breaks down, releasing those chemicals.   Some point out, as well, that embalming interrupts the thought of ashes to ashes and dust to dust, and that by choosing embalming we are interfering with the natural processes of life and death.

I’m not saying don’t embalm – I’m simply saying get all the facts, and make up your mind from there.  Only you know which factors matter most to you.  I simply want you to know that only in a few instances is it legally required, there are alternatives, skipping embalming can save you money, and it is healthier for workers, the environment, and your wallet if you forego the embalming.  However, you may feel you need your loved one embalmed in order for you to feel good and right about the service, in order to begin healing.   Assess all the facts, and go with your gut instinct and what your budget allows.   There is no right or wrong to your decision – my concern is that you make your choices fully informed, without pressure 🙂