The idea of embalming isn’t something we tend to consider unless we’re handling the remains of a loved one. It’s an interesting process, full of history and cultural meaning that’s been going on for a lot less time than you might think.
We’re going to talk about the embalming process today, answering the question “how long does embalming last?” It’s something you probably haven’t thought about, but it might be of interest to know.
Let’s get started. First, though, we have to answer the question “what is embalming?”
What Is Embalming?
Embalming is the process of chemical intervention in the human body to prevent remains from decomposing. Decomposition occurs quickly when an individual has passed.
After a day or so, the processes that contain the trillions of bacteria in our gut cease to function. Those bacteria start to branch out throughout the individual and break different pieces of biological matter into gas and energy.
The gradual breakdown of remains is called decomposition, and it has everything to do with the work of the bacteria living inside us while we’re alive. We’ve got a couple of days before our bodies start to look a lot different than they did when we were alive.
The trouble is that the length between death and a funeral reception tends to be longer than that time. It’s one thing to have a closed casket without embalming because the visitors can’t see the change, but that doesn’t account for the smell that comes from decomposition.
So, in almost every case, embalming allows the funeral service to go by smoothly and lets friends and relatives make their peace with the deceased without distraction.
The History of Embalming
There’s evidence to show that the ancient Egyptians developed their own form of embalming. Those practices aren’t entirely the same as the ones we use now, though.
Modern embalming was created by French and Italian scientists in the mid-1800s. That said, there’s no danger in sitting with loved ones for a few days after they pass even if there’s no embalming.
It’s not uncommon in a lot of countries to spend a while with the deceased before putting them to rest. So, the discoveries of those scientists weren’t necessary for a lot of people at that time.
It wasn’t until the American Civil War that individuals started using embalming as a regular practice. People died on the battlefields far away from their families, and embalming was a service that allowed those families to see their loved ones the way they used to look.
The journey back home would take a number of days, so a non-embalmed body would surely decompose before arriving. Individuals would sell embalming services in the same way that traveling salesmen market themselves now.
It wasn’t attached to the funeral industry in the same way that it is today. Instead, individuals who knew how to embalm could offer grieving families a valuable service and make a living doing so.
The embalming process isn’t as complicated as one might think. The essential practice used is the injection of particular chemicals into the arterial system. The chemicals then spread around the body through the circulatory system and halt decomposition from occurring.
The most common chemical used in these processes is called formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a strong chemical that a lot of health organizations warn embalming professionals to stay away from. At the same time, it’s a key piece of the embalming process, and the concoction of chemicals contains anywhere from 5 to 35 perfect formaldehyde.
Individuals who expose themselves to the chemical for a long period of time might see serious health consequences.
In addition to formaldehyde, a number of other chemicals get used to maintain the preservation of the deceased.
Once the arterial system gets pumped, the deceased also has their cavities cleared and filled with the solution. The stomach, bladder, and intestines are a few of those areas.
How Long Does Embalming Last?
The embalmed body doesn’t last forever. Even chemicals as strong as formaldehyde are no match for the natural processes of nature. That said, it’s hard to say just how long a body will last after embalming.
Out in the open air, the body will decompose a lot faster. Different factors like heat, humidity, and exposure to bacteria expedite the process a great deal. In those cases, an individual might start decomposing around 7 to 10 days after embalming.
It’s important to note that although someone might start to decompose, the process is hindered significantly by the embalming fluid. Someone who starts decomposing after ten days won’t deteriorate at the average rate.
When someone gets buried in a coffin, though, that process slows down significantly. There’s not as much exposure to the elements, temperature variations, and a number of other things.
A body inside of a coffin might remain intact for anywhere from two to one hundred years, depending on a few things.
Factors in Decomposition
The first thing to consider is the expertise of the skill of the embalmer. Someone with a lot of expertise can embalm the body in such a way that it won’t break down for a very long time. Different mistakes open up opportunities for bacteria to start working at a rapid rate.
The next thing to think about is the strength of the embalming fluid. The fluid is a combination of a number of different chemicals, and certain solutions work better than others.
Further, it’s important to think about the average temperature and humidity in the area that the individual is buried. Those factors still play a part underground, and the makeup of the coffin might allow a lot of moisture to enter.
In those cases, the body will decompose a lot faster. In a perfect environment and a well-sealed coffin, though, a person could remain up to around 100 years if they’re embalmed.
Want to Learn More?
Answering the question “how long does embalming last” is tricky. There are a lot of variables, but we hope that the ideas above helped to clear them up for you.
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