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What are the Steps in the Embalming Process?

Margo Upson
Margo Upson
Margo Upson
Margo Upson

The embalming process prepares a body for the funeral and eventual burial. It is performed by a mortician and is meant to prevent the spread of disease and to preserve the body until after the funeral. The process starts when the body is brought to the funeral home. Any clothes are removed, and the body is placed on a slab with draining grooves.

The first step in the embalming process is to wash off any waste, bodily fluids, or other materials on the body. Then the muscles are massaged to get rid of stiffness, called rigor mortis, which can make it difficult to move the body. This also helps to break up any congealment or clots in the blood that may have formed after death.

The first step in the embalming process involves washing the body.
The first step in the embalming process involves washing the body.

The next step in the embalming process is to set the face. An eye cup is placed over the eyes, to hide sinking, and the eyelids are closed and sealed, usually with glue or other adhesive substance. The mouth is sealed shut in a natural look, and the body is arranged in a natural position. This is all done first because embalming will set the features, making them impossible to move later on. Some morticians will turn the head 15 degrees to the right, so that it is easier to see during the showing.

An embalmer is responsible for dressing the deceased for wake and funeral services.
An embalmer is responsible for dressing the deceased for wake and funeral services.

Once the face is ready, the mortician begins embalming the body. He makes a cut in a main artery, usually near the armpit or groin, to drain out all of the blood. Another slit is made, and approximately three gallons of embalming fluid, made of formaldehyde, methanol and ethanol, is pumped through the veins, pushing out any remaining blood.

The embalming process continues with a small cut above the navel. The mortician inserts a tube into the abdomen through the cut. A pump is attached to the tube, and the contents of the stomach and intestines are pumped out. This also removes all of the gases from the body, preventing bloating. During this part of the embalming process, the mortician also aspirates the abdominal cavity and the inside of any organs, drying them. Full-strength embalming fluid is then pumped into the organs and abdomen.

Embalming is often linked to beliefs about the afterlife.
Embalming is often linked to beliefs about the afterlife.

After the body is stitched closed, the mortician washes it off, including shampooing the hair. Facial hair that may get in the way of makeup application is shaved, and then the body is dressed in clothes delivered by a family member. After that, the hair and makeup is styled, at which point the body is set in the casket for family and friends to view at the calling hours.

Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Margo has a varied academic background, which has involved everything from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education. These wide-ranging interests make her an ideal WiseGEEK writer, as she always enjoys becoming an expert on new and unfamiliar topics.

Learn more...
Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Margo has a varied academic background, which has involved everything from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education. These wide-ranging interests make her an ideal WiseGEEK writer, as she always enjoys becoming an expert on new and unfamiliar topics.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


The more I know about the embalming process and all the other responsibilities of the mortician, the more respect I have for them! Thank God for those who choose this profession and thank you from those of us who have lost someone we cared about and were able to see them one last time looking perfect! Your work really does matter and is needed and appreciated.


My situation may seem odd and maybe someone may have an answer but when I see a deceased person, no matter if it's before or after embalming, the color, to me, looks gray green. I am not color blind. I know that the embalming fluid is supposed to return more of a natural color to the body but I wonder why they look gray green to me and that is only if I see them in person. In a photo, they look like they are supposed to be.


When my wife died in the winter of 2009, I was curious as to how long the body would be left in state as it was after the funeral/burial. Since her body is 30 inches below ground level, it has been refrigerated since the burial at maybe no higher than 45 degrees. She was buried in -15 degree weather -- it was brutally cold -- and I often wonder how long the body lasts in a refrigerated state.

I am finding out that it depends on many factors, but she has been in the ground six years now. The information states that too many factors are in play with body decomposition so it's hard to tell what physical shape the remains are currently in. It took five weeks for Lincoln to be buried when he died, mostly due to the train ride across the country. He became so black from decomposition that his face was actually painted on towards the end. That's what the articles all pointed to. There is a little girl in Italy who was interred in a glass covered sealed box. She is less than 4 years old in age but has been dead for over 100 years. She looks like a china doll. She is in pristine condition.


Egyptians, because of the dry climate, did lots of things not necessarily required to mummify. Everyone was mummified, no matter what was done. When the English started railroads in Egypt, there was no coal or wood to fire the steam engines, so they used the mummies that were very plentiful.

Engineer to Fireman: "These Plebians don't burn worth a cent. Throw on a king!" Per Mark Twain


The arteries are used for injection and the veins are for the drainage. Three gallons is the minimum in Texas at least, It's 1 gallon for every 50 pounds.

The most common incision is in the right common carotid artery since it is the closest to the heart, which the embalming machine is mimicking. Ideally, the injection is through the right common carotid artery and drainage is through the internal jugular vein, but that is not always the case, so injection and drainage can be performed at any of the arteries and their accompanying veins.

Aspiration is a process to rupture the organs to delay decomposition of the abdomen. It does not "dry" them; it's more like popping them and sucking them out. Cavity fluid is then used to further preserve the thoracic walls of the deceased.

This is an interesting article and I am curious to know what state the person who wrote it is from. Of course all states, have their own laws and the basic information I listed above is just a fraction of the laws in Texas.


Don't they stick a hook up the nose as well and remove the brain?


@anon925430: I think the long delay between the person's death and the wake is your answer. Everything decays, no matter what steps are taken to prevent it. And 38 days is a long time to wait.

The funeral home probably just went with the family's wishes, and they couldn't be convinced that an open casket might not be a good idea. I don't work for a funeral home, but I know a fair bit about what goes on behind the scenes.

A closed casket would have probably been the easiest thing, but some people think this is disrespectful. It's all about what the family wants.


I have a very important question. As this article says, if done properly the deceased will be viewed as simply sleeping. What if that is not the case? Can someone explain to me why or how would a deceased person's facial features be altered 100 percent? What may have caused the deceased's body to swell, requiring the use of chemicals to attempt to bring the swelling down? Could this occur during the embalming process?

There was a time span of 38 days between death and the wake. The deceased had cancer but never used chemo and never underwent radiation. Morphine was used in the last few hours to comfort her and that is all. Is there a possibility of a chemical reaction during embalming that would cause swelling? I believe by reading that the funeral home just waited too late to process this person. However, I'm not an expert. That's why I'm hoping to get a reply from a person who is. Mahalo for any info and your time.


This is a tastefully written article; nice work. I am in tenth grade, and I've been thinking about becoming a funeral director or an embalmer since ninth grade. I originally wanted to be a surgeon, but working with the deceased seems much more appealing to me now. I think the human body is beautiful, and should be taken care of properly, even after death.


The reason we don't get "grossed out" is because we don't see these as "corpses". These are your parents, your siblings, your children. They are the bodies that housed all the memories that made this human, 'human'. When you stop looking at death through horror flick lenses, you'll see the love and humanity behind what we do/you could do for those left behind. And that's "how we do it."


I was considering becoming a mortician in Canada, and after knowing what the job entails in more depth I am even more interested in pursuing this as a career.


This is a very informative article, and very tastefully written. It also goes a long way towards dignifying the caring and painstaking work of the mortician.

Some time ago I came across a Japanese short video entitled "Departures". I would recommend anyone interested in the subject of embalming to try locate and view it. It will be well worth the effort. I understand that it was an award-winning film.


Probably 99 percent of morticians do a great job but why can't bodies be kept in diapers for dignity? Would morticians mind their bodies being naked on slabs?


I am a college freshman and my long term goal is to become a mortician. I've always found death to be a very interesting subject I'm looking for videos of a live embalming process so I can learn a lot more. Does anyone have any suggestions?


Wow! This is truly a wonderful article. I'm in grade 9 and studying harder each day. I soon hope to become a mortician in my future. Learning about the embalming process has just raised my level of interest in this job. Great article - AnneMarie.


I started working part time and just to see the time and care the mortician takes when working, and the after effects of how the deceased looks. Even family members cannot believe that he does such an awesome job. It gives the family strength to go through the healing process.


I am a mortician in the USA and this article give you the basics of embalming, but there is a lot more to it. The true benefit of doing this work is making the deceased look great even in death. We massage the body during the embalming process to help relieve rigor mortis and the help the embalming fluids to flow easier.


I'm writing a profile paper on embalming a body and this really is very informative. I had no idea about this process either and takes a lot of guts to do the work they do.


I am an embalmer in the uk. We do quite a lot more to prepare a body than what is written above, but it is an informative summary.

We embalm for three reasons: sanitation, preservation and presentation. Embalming restores a natural color to the skin and makes the deceased look as though they are simply asleep. This makes viewing a body a much easier process for relatives etc.

It takes between two and three hours to properly prepare and embalm a body and requires significant skill and attention to the smallest detail. I do it because I find the process both fascinating, and extremely rewarding.

It's our job to make the deceased look their very best for what will be the final memory that their family has of them.


This is an informative article. I'm writing a novel in which one of the characters is a funeral director, so these details will help me in adding realism to the story.


I used to be a nurse and as part of our training (during the 1970's), we had to view the embalming process at a funeral parlor. I was always intrigued by the process, but wondered why one was never allowed to see the embalming of a relative! GFG/FL


Wait, wait. People have to massage the dead bodies? I knew they put makeup on them, but I had no idea that the embalmer actually had to massage them.

Excellent, very informative article.


This makes me really take a new view on morticians -- I had no idea their jobs involved so much detail.

But honestly, I really don't understand how people do that job. I mean, I think I would get totally grossed out just undressing a corpse, much less cutting the arteries and putting makeup on it.


Wow. This is a really detailed article -- I had no idea the embalming process was so complicated.

It gives you a new respect for all that the Egyptians went though with all that mummy embalming.

I wonder how similar the mummification process was to the current embalming process?

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    • The first step in the embalming process involves washing the body.
      By: Vera Kuttelvaserova
      The first step in the embalming process involves washing the body.
    • An embalmer is responsible for dressing the deceased for wake and funeral services.
      By: ufot
      An embalmer is responsible for dressing the deceased for wake and funeral services.
    • Embalming is often linked to beliefs about the afterlife.
      By: Les Cunliffe
      Embalming is often linked to beliefs about the afterlife.