What is embalming?

When it comes to organising the funeral of a loved one, one of the questions you will be asked is whether you would like them to be embalmed. This can be quite a difficult decision to make if you don’t know much about the process, so we’ve put together this short guide to help you.

What is embalming?

Embalming is the process where a body is preserved by using chemicals, to slow down the effects of decomposition. The embalming process can help make the person appear restful or can even help with the effects of disease or other causes of death.

Embalming is not required by law, unless your loved one needs to be sent abroad for the funeral.

Why do people choose embalming?

When a person has died, they look very different to how they did in life, and so embalming can bring a lot of comfort as it restores their appearance as much as possible.

Embalming dramatically slows down the decomposition process, so it’s often recommended if the funeral isn’t due to take place right away. This allows you more time to visit your loved one in the chapel of rest or bring them home before the funeral. Also, it gives families who need to travel for the funeral an opportunity the chance to visit them in the chapel of rest.

As previously mentioned, if your loved one is to be taken abroad, it is a legal requirement that they be embalmed. Find out more about repatriation.

The embalming process

Embalming is a process where natural fluids are removed from the body and replaced with a solution to help preserve and improve the appearance of the person who has died. The solutions are a mixture of chemicals including formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol and phenol, as well as water and colourants to restore the appearance of the skin.

How long does embalming take?

Embalming can take between 2 to 4 hours to complete, depending on the techniques used. You may be asked to provide a photo of your loved one. This can be useful when applying make-up and styling the hair, to help resemble the way they looked in life.

How embalming affects the funeral arrangements

Can I visit my loved one if they haven’t been embalmed?

Yes, you can still visit your loved one in the chapel of rest if they haven’t been embalmed. However, as embalming delays the process of decomposition, your funeral director may advise that you visit your loved one as soon as possible.

Does embalming effect a cremation?

Yes, a person that has been embalmed can be cremated. The chemicals used in the embalming process don’t have any effect on a cremation.

Does embalming effect a burial?

This depends on the type of burial you choose. In many circumstances, you can have a burial once a person has been embalmed. However, if you’re considering an eco-friendly funeral or a woodland burial, embalming isn’t allowed, as the chemicals may soak into the surrounding ground and contaminate the woodland.

The most important thing to remember is that embalming is a very personal choice and by no means compulsory. If you’re still unsure on whether you would choose embalming for your loved one, please contact your local Co-op funeral director who would be more than happy to answer any questions.