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Various embalming fluids from the early 20th century

Embalming chemicals are a variety of preservatives, disinfectants – and disinfectants and additives used in modern embalming to temporarily prevent decomposition and to restore a natural appearance for the Inspection of a body after death. A mixture of these chemicals is known as embalming fluid and is used to preserve corpses of the deceased for both burial purposes and in medical research in anatomical laboratories. The length of time it takes to embalm a corpse depends on the time, the skill of the embalmer, and factors related to length of stay and purpose.

Typically, embalming fluid contains a mixture of formaldehyde , glutaraldehyde , methanol and other solvents. The formaldehyde content generally ranges from 5 to 37 percent and the methanol content can range from 9 to 56 percent.

In the United States alone, approximately 20 million liters (approximately 5.3 million gallons) of embalming fluid are used each year.

How they work

Embalming fluid is designed to ( denature ) cell proteins, meaning they cannot serve as a nutrient source for bacteria; Embalming fluid also kills the bacteria themselves. Formaldehyde or glutaraldehyde fixes tissues or cells by irreversibly linking a primary amine group in a protein molecule to a nearby nitrogen in a protein or DNA molecule through a -CH 2 linkage known as Schiff’s base Base connects . The end result also creates the simulation of the appearance of blood flowing under the skin via color changes.

Modern embalming is not performed with a single fixative. Instead, different chemicals are used to create a mixture called an arterial solution, which is uniquely created for the needs of each individual case. For example, a corpse that needs to be repatriated abroad requires a higher index (percentage of diluted preservative chemical) than just for Consideration (in the United States and Canada as Funeral visit known ) at a funeral home prior to the Cremation or burial.


Tank with Embalming Fluid

Embalming Fluid is injected into the deceased’s arterial system. Many other body fluids can also be displaced via the arterial system and removed from the body and, in the case of lumen treatment, aspirated from the body and replaced with a special fluid known as lumen fluid.

Chemicals and additives

It is important to distinguish between an arterial chemical (or liquid), which is generally considered to be the product in its original composition, and an arterial solution, which is a diluted mixture of chemicals and is made to order for each body will. Non-preservative chemicals in an arterial solution are generally referred to as “adjunct chemicals” or co-/pre-injectants, depending on their time of use.

Possible ingredients in an arterial solution are:

  • Preservative (arterial) chemical. These are usually percentage (usually 18-37%) mixtures of Formaldehyde , Glutaraldehyde , or in some cases Phenol, which are then diluted to obtain the final arterial solution index. Methanol is used to keep the formaldehyde in solution. Formalin refers specifically to 37% aqueous formaldehyde and is not normally used in burial embalming, but rather in the preservation of anatomical specimens.
  • Water conditioner. These are designed to balance the “hardness” of the water (the presence of other trace chemicals that alter the pH or neutrality of the water) and help reduce the acidity of the deceased, a byproduct of decomposition, since formaldehyde is best found in a < span class="mw-redirect" title="Alkaline">alkaline environment affects . Additionally, water conditioners can be used to inactivate chemotherapy drugs and antibiotics, which can bind to the preservative chemical and render it ineffective.
  • Cell conditioners. These chemicals prime cells to absorb arterial fluid and help break up clots in the bloodstream.
  • Dyes. Active dyes are used to restore the body’s natural coloring and act against conditions such as Jaundice, as well as to indicate arterial fluid distribution. Inactive dyes are used by the arterial fluid manufacturer to give the fluid in the bottle a pleasing color, but do nothing to the appearance of the embalmed body.
  • humectants. These are added to dehydrated and emaciated bodies to give the tissues a more natural and hydrated appearance
  • Anti-edema chemicals. In contrast to humectants, these are intended to remove excess fluid from the body ( edema ).
  • Additional disinfectants. For specific cases, such as Tissue Gas, specialty chemicals such as Omega Dekomp Factor, Triton-28, STOP, or Dispray (Topical) can be injected arterially to tissue kill gas.
  • water. Most arterial solutions are a mixture of some of the above chemicals with lukewarm water. Cases without the addition of water are referred to as “waterless”. Waterless embalming is more common in difficult cases or those requiring a very high degree of preservation, such as where there is a longer delay between death and final disposition.
  • Void Fluid. This is generally a very high index formaldehyde or glutaraldehyde solution that is injected undiluted directly through the trocar incision into the body cavities injected to treat the intestines. In cases of gas tissues, Phenol based products are often used instead.


Prior to the advent of the modern range of embalming chemicals, a variety of alternative additives were used by embalmers, including Epsom Salts for edema cases and Jaundice , but these are of limited effectiveness and can be chalked up as “embalmer tricks” since the validity of their use has never been proven by professional embalmers or cadaver research programs became.

During the American Civil War, the Union Army, wanting to transport killed soldiers from the battlefields back home for burial, consulted with Dr. Thomas Holmes, who developed a technique that involved draining blood from a corpse and embalming it with a liquid made with arsenic for preservation.

Embalming chemicals are usually made by specialized manufacturers. The oldest embalming fluid company was founded as the Hill Fluid Company in 1878 and founded in 1880 by Dr. AA Bakker founded as Champion Company, making The Champion Company 143 years old. Today they operate continuously in Springfield, Ohio, where they were founded. The second oldest embalming fluid company is the Frigid Fluid Company, founded in 1892, followed by the Dodge Company in 1893, with other companies such as Egyptian, now US Chemical, as well as Kelco Supply Company (formerly LH Kellogg), Pierce Chemical Company (now owned by The Wilbert Company), Bondol Chemical Company and Hydrol Chemical Company. There are also many smaller and regional producers. Some funeral homes make their own embalming fluids, although this practice has declined in recent decades as commercially available products have become better quality and more readily available.

Following EU biocides legislation, pressure has been exerted to reduce the use of formaldehyde. IARC classifies Formaldehyde as Class 1 carcinogen a . There are alternatives to formaldehyde and phenol based liquids but these are not technically preservatives but disinfectants and are not widely accepted. However, always aware of the safety of the embalmer, The Champion Company developed and marketed lower exposure fluids with less HCHO and in the 1990’s Champion was the first to manufacture and market HCHO-free fluids. Only The Champion and The Dodge Company sell these fluids.

Environmental Effects

Despite serious concerns, formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance of which humans produce approximately 1.5g per day as a normal part of a healthy metabolism. Formaldehyde also occurs naturally in many fruits such as bananas, apples and carrots and does not accumulate in either plants or animals.

Formaldehyde acts to fix the tissues of the deceased. This is the property that also makes concentrated formaldehyde dangerous if not handled with proper Personal Protective Equipment. The carbon atom in formaldehyde, CH 2 O, carries a slight positive charge due to the high electronegativity of the oxygen doubly bonded to the carbon. The electropositive carbon reacts with a negatively charged molecule and other electron rich species. As a result, the carbon in the formaldehyde molecule combines with electron-rich nitrogen groups called amines, found in plant and animal tissue. This leads to a cross-linking of formaldehyde that links proteins to other proteins and DNA binds , making them dysfunctional or no longer useful. This is why formaldehyde is used as a preservative as it prevents cell breakdown and makes tissues unsuitable as a nutrient source for bacteria.

Formaldehyde is carcinogenic in humans and animals in excessive amounts because cross-linking can cause DNA to stop cells from stopping the replication process. This unwarranted replication of cells can lead to Cancer . Even single-celled organisms found in the soil and groundwater are very sensitive to cross-linking and are damaged at a concentration of 0.3 mg to 22 mg per liter. Formaldehyde also affects aquatic invertebrates, with crustaceans being the most sensitive species. The concentration range that is harmful to them is 0.4 mg to 20 mg per liter.

Formaldehyde released during the cremation of embalmed bodies is released into the atmosphere and can remain in suspension for up to 250 hours. It is readily soluble in water, so it combines with moisture in the atmosphere and rains down on plants, animals, and water supplies below. As a result, the formaldehyde content in the precipitate can range from 110 µg to 1380 µg per liter. Notwithstanding these concerns, as a ubiquitous chemical produced by living things, formaldehyde is highly biodegradable, both by sunlight in the air and by bacteria in soil and water.

The growth of the environmental movement has led some people to consider green burials, in which either no aldehyde-based chemicals are used in the embalming process, or there is no embalming process at all. Embalming fluid that meets certain criteria for such burials is commercially available, and while not as effective as aldehyde-based solutions, it is approved by the Green Burial Association of America. Only the Champion Company developed and distributed their fourth generation of liquids called “Enigma” in the early 2000s. All Champion Enigma products have been approved by the Green Burial Council.

See also

  • Glass House (British Columbia) – a building in British Columbia constructed from empty embalming fluid bottles


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