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What Is Embalming And Is It Relevant For You?

If your or a loved one wishes to be buried, embalming is relevant to you. Because whilst you may have heard about embalming during your ancient history classes, it remains an integral part of modern day funeral practises. In this article we explain everything you need to know about the embalming process, it’s pricing and it's a legal requirement in Australia.

Bolts of fabric

What is Embalming?

Embalming is a process which aims to preserve the human body for the sake of burial arrangements or transport purposes. The practice delays the body’s natural decomposition process by injecting chemicals into the bloodstream. This prevents bacteria from growing and insects from using it as a food source.

History of embalming

Embalming has been commonplace around the world for centuries, with the ancient Egyptians among those known to have used embalming as a ritual during burial. It is still common practice in the funeral industry, but the processes have improved greatly with the aid of modern technology.

Why is embalming necessary?

When someone dies their cells begin breaking down immediately. Within three hours of death rigour mortis sets in - meaning the body becomes stiff and immoveable. After this, blood drains from capillaries in the skin’s surface - giving the skin a pale, washed out look.

Embalming delays the onset of these processes by removing someone’s bodily fluids and replacing them with chemicals. This is done so the body’s physical appearance remains palatable for public displays during funerals. It is also used to preserve the body for long-distance transportation or for medical or scientific research.

The embalming process

When someone dies in hospital or at a funeral home their body is transferred to a morgue. The lower temperatures inside these facilities slow down the decomposition process until the body can be transported for burial or cremation. If the family has decided to embalm the body the Funeral Director will then begin the embalming process.

The steps involved will depend on which type of embalming takes place: arterial embalming or cavity embalming. The entire process can take between two and four hours. Before embalming takes place the body must first be cleaned and disinfected.


The body is washed with a disinfectant solution and massaged to offset rigor mortis. The eyes and mouth are closed and the hands are placed on the chest or the lap.

Arterial embalming

In this method blood is drained out of the veins and replaced with embalming fluids. A tube is inserted into the body either through the jugular vein in the neck or the femoral vein in the leg. Blood and other bodily fluids are drained out of the body using a machine.

A chemical solution is then injected into the arteries to bring colour back to the skin. The solution is generally made up of a mix of chemicals like formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol, phenol and colourants.

Cavity embalming

This is an alternative process to arterial embalming which drains the bodily fluids through a surgical procedure. The embalmer makes an incision in the abdomen and a tube is inserted to drain the organs of fluid and gas. Embalming chemicals are then injected into the body and the incision is stitched back up.

Cosmetic work

The final step involves preparing the body for viewing. Any incisions are stitched up and the entire body is washed a second time using a disinfectant solution and then dried using towels. The body is dressed in clothes provided by the family before the final cosmetic touches are applied.

If the body looks emaciated another solution is injected to plump the facial features. Likewise, the appearance can be modified using wax or plaster if the face or body has been impacted by physical trauma or disease.

Caps are placed under the eyelids to keep them closed and invisible sutures are set into the jaw to keep it in place. Then the nails are cut, hair is groomed and styled and makeup is applied.

How long does embalming last?

The condition and storage of the deceased's body, as well as embalming chemicals, will influence how long embalming preservation lasts. Whilst embalming does not offer a permanent solution to preserving a body, it can last several days when the conditions are right.

Is embalming required by law?

Embalming is not a formal requirement for burials or cremations. Funeral homes might recommend embalming, especially for open casket viewings or if the body is being transported far, however it is at the family's discretion.

Why choose embalming?

Embalming is not a particularly common practice in Australia due to the increasing popularity of cremation. However, there are a number of reasons why you may consider embalming as part of the burial arrangement for your family or friends.

  • The body is being buried in above ground in a mausoleum, vault or crypt

It is a legal requirement in Australia that bodies being buried above ground undergo the embalming process.

  • The body is being repatriated

If the body is being brought back into Australia or sent from Australia overseas it is a legal requirement for embalming to take place before it is transported. If you do not wish to have the body embalmed it must be cremated and transported as ashes instead.

  • The body be will on display in an open casket during a funeral, viewing or a memorial service

While embalming is not required in this situation it helps to improve the appearance of the body for display purposes.

  • There is a significant delay between the death and the burial

Embalming the body will give other family members or friends a chance to view them before burial.

What is the cost of embalming?

The cost of embalming varies depending on the funeral home, location, and the extent of the embalming process.

On average, the cost of embalming in Australia can range from $600 to $1,500 plus. Representing a large addition to already high funeral costs, it's important to note that embalming is not always required.

Speaking with a funeral director can provide a breakdown of associated funeral and embalming costs, to explore alternative options if embalming is not within your family funeral budget.

Is Embalming Necessary for Cremation?

No. One of the major advantages of a direct cremation is that the body does not go on public display. Since embalming is a process typically used to preserve the body for viewing during a funeral service embalming is not typically a part of the cremation process. This can significantly cut down costs of a cremation, relative to a traditional burial.

However if you want to hold a viewing or a funeral service prior to cremation, you may want to have the body embalmed.

How Safewill Cremations Can Help You

Are you considering cremation for your loved ones? If you’re searching for a personal, affordable and eco-friendly farewell find out more about Safewill Cremations. Our compassionate team of experts is available to support you at your time of need- 24 hour a day, 7 day week on 1300 730 639.

Last updated 09th December 2021
Louise Ayling
Copywriter & Content Developer
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