Peach garden flowers.

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.

Embalming is the process where a body is preserved by using preservatives to slow down the effects of natural deterioration. The embalming process helps by making the person appear restful and can even help with the effects of disease or other causes of death. Embalming helps to achieve a natural and comforting lasting image of your loved one.

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 may 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. Some find this helps them with closure either for the funeral or beyond.

Embalming dramatically slows down the natural deterioration after death, 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 the chance to visit them in the chapel of rest. Embalming can also help those who are undecided about whether to visit or not and need more time to consider this.

If your loved one is to be repatriated abroad for the funeral, it is a legal requirement that they be embalmed. Find out more about repatriation.

Religious beliefs may also be a factor on whether you choose to have your loved one embalmed as some faiths do not allow it. Your funeral director will be able to check this for you.

The embalming process

Embalming is a process where natural fluids of the body are replaced (via the arterial system) with a solution to help preserve, sanitise and improve the appearance of the person who has died. The solution is a combination of formaldehyde, natural oils, colourants and water, which help 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 their 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 natural deterioration, your funeral director may advise that you visit your loved one as soon as possible.

Does embalming affect a cremation?

The products used in the embalming process don't have any effect on a cremation and those who are embalmed can still be cremated safely.

Does embalming affect 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 contaminate the local environment.

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.

Find your local funeral home

Enter your town or postcode to find a Co-op funeral home near you.