Embalming chemicals

Embalming chemicals

Embalming chemicals are a variety of preservatives, sanitising and disinfectant agents and additives used in modern embalming to temporarily prevent decomposition and restore a natural appearance for viewing a body after death. A mixture of these chemicals is known as embalming fluid and is used to preserve deceased (dead) individuals, sometimes only until the funeral, other times indefinitely.

Typically embalming fluid contains a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents. The formaldehyde content generally ranges from 5 to 29 percent and the ethanol content may range from 9 to 56 percent.

In the United States alone, enough embalming fluid is buried every year to fill eight Olympic-size pools.Sehee, Joe (2007). [http://www.perc.org/perc.php?subsection=5&id=1015 Green Burial] , PERC Reports, Winter 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-07.] (~20 million liters)

How they work

Simply explained, embalming fluid acts to "fix" (denature) cellular proteins, meaning that they cannot act as a nutrient source for bacteria; embalming fluid also kills the bacteria themselves. Formaldehyde fixes tissue or cells by irreversibly connecting a primary amine group in a protein molecule with a nearby nitrogen in a protein or DNA molecule through a -CH2- linkage called a Schiff base. The end result also creates the simulation, via color changes, of the appearance of blood flowing under the skin.

Modern embalming is not done with a single fixative. Instead, various different chemicals are used to create a mixture, called an arterial solution, which is generated specifically for the needs of each case. For example, a body needing to be repatriated overseas needs a higher index (percentage of diluted preservative chemical) than one simply for viewing (known in the United States and Canada as a funeral visitation) at a funeral home before cremation.


Embalming fluid is injected into the arteries of the deceased during embalming. Many other bodily fluids may be drained or aspirated and replaced with the fluid as well. The process of embalming is designed to slow decomposition of the body.

Chemicals and additives

It is important to distinguish between an arterial chemical (or fluid), which is generally taken to be the product in its original composition, and an arterial solution, which is a diluted mixture of chemicals and made to order for each body. Non-preservative chemicals in an arterial solution are generally called "assessory chemicals" or co/pre-injectants, depending on their time of utilization.

Potential ingredients in an arterial solution include:

*Preservative (Arterial) Chemical. These are commonly a percentage (normally 18%-35%) based mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde or in some cases phenol which are then diluted to gain the final index of the arterial solution. Methanol is used to hold the formaldehyde in solution. Formalin refers specifically to 37% aqueous formaldehyde and is not commonly used in funeral embalming but rather in the preservation of anatomical specimens.

*Water Conditioner. These are designed to balance the "hardness" of water (the presence of other trace chemicals that changes the water's pH or neutrality) and to help reduce the deceased's acidity, a by-product of decomposition, as formaldehyde works best in an alkaline environment. Additionally, water conditioners may be used to help "inactivate" chemotherapy drugs and antibiotics which may bind to and render ineffectual the preservative chemical.

*Cell Conditioner. These chemicals act to prepare cells for absorption of arterial fluid and help break up clots in the bloodstream.

*Dyes. Active dyes are use to restore someone's natural colouration and counterstain against conditions such as jaundice as well as to indicate distribution of arterial fluid. Inactive dyes are used by the manufacturer of the arterial fluid to give a pleasant color to the fluid in the bottle, but does nothing for the appearance of the embalmed body.

*Humectants. These are added to dehydrated and emaciated bodies to help restore tissue to a more natural and hydrated appearance.

*Anti-Edemic Chemicals. The opposite of humectants these are designed to draw excessive fluid (edema) from a body.

*Additional Disinfectants. For certain cases, such as tissue gas, specialist chemicals normally used topically such as Dis-Spray are added to an arterial solution.

*Water. Most arterial solutions are a mix of some of the preceding chemicals with tepid water. Cases done without the addition of water are referred to specifically as "waterless". Waterless embalming is very effective but not economically viable for everyday cases

*Cavity Fluid. This is a generally a very high index formaldehyde or glutaraldehyde solution injected undiluted directly via the trocar incision into the body cavities to treat the viscera. In cases of tissue gas phenol based products are often used instead.


Prior to the advent of the modern range of embalming chemicals a variety of alternative additives have been used by embalmers, including epsom salts for edemic cases and milk in cases of jaundice,Fact|date=May 2008 but these are of limited effectiveness.

During the American Civil War, the Union Army, wanting to transport slain soldiers from the battle fields back home for burial, consulted with Dr. Thomas Holmes who developed a technique that involved the draining of a corpse’s blood and embalming it with a fluid made with arsenic for preservation.

Embalming chemicals are generally produced by specialist manufacturers, two of the oldest and biggest being the Dodge and Champion Companies but there are many smaller and regional producers such as Lear Barber in Sheffield, Genelyn, Frigid to name but a few among hundreds. Additionally many funeral homes generate their own fluids.

Following the EU Biocides Legislation it is possible that formaldehyde may be banned in Europe in September 2006. IARC Classes Formaldehyde as a . There are alternatives to formaldehyde and phenol-based fluids, but these are technically not preservatives but rather a sanitising agents and are not widely accepted. As of the end of September it is now illegal to sell or use phenol in embalming. Formaldehyde although now illegal to sell within Europe due to non compliance with EU law will continue exploiting a loophole in the law till 2008. Fact|date=September 2008

Confusion with PCP

The term "embalming fluid" is also slang for the psychoactive drug PCP, and possibly other dissociatives. Confusion over this usage has misled anti-drug speakers to condemn the use of, and drug users to mistakenly use, actual embalming fluid.


ee also


External links

* [http://www.frigidfluidco.com/ Official Frigid Fluid Company Website]
* [http://www.dodgeco.com/ Official Dodge Company Website]
* [http://www.aardbalm.co.uk/ Official Aardbalm Company Website]
* [http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=2387318321935223597 CGI Embalming using Aardbalm]
* [http://www.learbarber.com/ Lear Barber Ltd company website]

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