Embalming Fluid: Don’t Miss What It Is and What It Does

Embalming Fluid: What It Is and What It Does
Many people have heard of embalming fluid and know that it’s part of preserving a body for a funeral, but do you know what embalming fluid actually is? And did you know that embalming isn’t always necessary? Or that embalming isn’t common in many other countries?

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There are a lot of misconceptions about what embalming fluid is and why it’s used. For starters, a family can choose whether or not they want embalming to occur, regardless of what end of life service they use. That’s why it’s important for families to understand their options and what embalming entails so they can make the best decision. 

What is Embalming Fluid?

Embalming fluid is a substance that is able to preserve a body and slow the decomposition process by dehydrating and hardening tissue. How much preservation does embalming fluid provide? The effects only last a few weeks.

Most embalming fluids are a mixture of chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens. Those who are concerned about the environmental impact of burials note that embalming fluid can be extremely harmful. Generally, there are six ingredients in embalming fluid:

  • Water
  • Formaldehyde (acts as a preservative)
  • Solvents
  • Sanitizers
  • Disinfectants (Glutaraldehyde)
  • Conditioners

The harshest substance is formaldehyde (which can be as high as 35%). The toxins in embalming fluid are so harsh funeral workers must wear special protective suits when they are handling it. Also, no one else can be in the room during the embalming process for safety reasons.

Not surprisingly, people often choose to use embalming fluid because they plan to have a viewing or an open casket funeral and want their loved one to look as natural as possible. Rarely do they realize how dangerous and harmful embalming fluid can be. 

Embalming fluid alternatives that do not use formaldehyde have been developed. However, their environmental impact is not well-known. Refrigeration is an option as well if you want to forgo embalming before a viewing. Families can also choose direct cremation to avoid embalming and its environmental impact. 

How Embalming Fluid Works

Embalming is an involved process that can only be performed by a licensed professional. These professionals fully understand the risks involved with handling embalming fluids and follow the proper OSHA requirements.

Before embalming can be done, a funeral home must legally obtain the family’s permission. Typically, the disclosure is something like the following:

“Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming may be necessary, however, if you select certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing. If you do not want embalming, you usually have the right to choose an arrangement that does not require you to pay for it, such as direct cremation or immediate burial.”

You should likely see this disclosure in the funeral homes General Price List (GPL). A link to download our GPL is a the bottom of every page on our website. Or, you can download it directly here.

Once the funeral home has permission the process can begin.

All Fluids Are Removed

The first step in the process doesn’t involve embalming fluid at all. First, the body is cleaned and drained of all fluids, including blood in the venous system.

Embalming Fluids Are Injected

Embalming fluid can now be injected into the arteries. In most cases, one gallon of embalming fluid is needed per 50 pounds of body weight. The embalmer will use special massaging techniques to ensure the fluid spreads properly.

Incision Suturing

Finally, blood vessels are tied off and the incision for the embalming fluid tube is sutured shut.


Embalming is a personal choice, and it’s good to know that families have options. Understanding what’s in embalming fluid and how the process works can have a big impact on what end of life service is chosen. If you have any questions about embalming and green options like our clean flame cremation or water cremation give us a call anytime. We’re available 24 hours a day seven days a week.

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