Embalmers prepare the dead. They wash, disinfect, preserve and dress the body ready for burial or cremation. They evacuate air from the lungs of the body and replace the blood with embalming fluid, which delays composition so that relatives can view the deceased prior to the funeral. Embalmers may also use clay and wax to reshape bodies that have been disfigured or maimed. They dress the body for viewing, arrange it in the casket and apply make-up. Embalmers must ensure detailed records are kept of procedures and that they comply with legislation concerning the handling of the dead. Salaries for the role depend on where and for whom an embalmer works.
In May 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics collected wage data from 8,190 individuals working as embalmers across the United States. It calculated that the average annual salary for the role was £26,767. This translates into a monthly wage of £2,230 and an hourly rate of £12.80. In 2011, the SchoolsintheUSA.com website listed the average salary for an embalmer as £28,197, while CBSalary.com put it slightly higher at £33,541.
Salary by Industry
Two main industry sectors employ embalmers: death care services that include funeral homes and crematoria, and academia, which includes colleges, universities and professional schools. The bureau found that salaries for embalmers differ between the two, with the former paying an average of £26,747 and the latter £30,686 per year.
Salary by Location
The bureau listed Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maryland as the states in which, across both industry sectors, an embalmer achieved the highest pay rates, averaging £37,875, £34,567 and £33,351, respectively. Mississippi was listed at just £21,281. The Boston, Cambridge, Quincy area of Massachusetts was listed as the most lucrative metropolitan district at £37,186 while the Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent district of Florida was listed at £18,076. Wage comparison website SalaryExpert.com, in its 2011 survey of embalmer salaries in major American cities, listed New York and Boston as lucrative urban locales, with averages of £31,927 and £30,511, respectively. Phoenix, Arizona was listed at £26,048.
To become an embalmer, an individual must attend a training program accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education. As of 2011, there are around 50 approved programs across the country. Students receive instruction in anatomy, biology and chemistry as well as embalming techniques. Candidates must complete an apprenticeship before passing a written examination set by their State board to obtain a license to practice as an embalmer.