How does embalming fluid work?

Written by chris sherwood
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How does embalming fluid work?

What Is Embalming Fluid?

Embalming fluid is a combination of chemicals used to preserve, sanitise and disinfect a human body before it is buried. These chemicals include a mixture of methanol, formaldehyde and ethanol, as well as a range of other solvents. In the United States, more than 20 million litres of embalming fluid are used every year to preserve bodies in mortuaries and funeral homes (PERC Reports, 2007).


Embalming has been historically used to help preserve bodies for religious and ceremonial reasons. Today, embalming is used to help slow down the decaying process long enough for there to be a viewing time for friends and family of the deceased. Morticians want to provide the most realistic-looking facial structure and look for a viewing. Without embalming fluid, bodies would decay too much to have open casket funerals.

How It Works

Decomposition is caused by bacteria eating the dead skin tissue for nutrients. Embalming fluid works by sealing the tissue cells so that the bacteria cannot eat them. Additives in the embalming fluid also kill the bacteria that decompose the flesh. The embalming mixture, or arterial solution, can be varied in the composition of ingredients depending on how long the body needs to be preserved before burial. In some cases, the body can be preserved for weeks to allow for shipping of the body to its final resting place.

The Process

Embalming fluid is injected using a thick needle and tubing that is inserted into the arteries. As the embalming fluid enters the body, the remaining blood is pushed from the body and replaced by the fluid. Embalming fluid may also be pumped in to replace other bodily fluids.

Other Uses

Embalming fluid has found its way into other parts of Americans' lives, most notably in the illicit drug market. PCP and marijuana are often laced with embalming fluid to increase the hallucinogenic properties of the drugs. Embalming fluid is also popularly used to soak cigarettes. Because the embalming fluid allows the cigarette to burn slower, many believe it will increase the high. But using embalming fluid in this way can cause a host of health problems, including a higher risk of cancer.

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