How Much Does It Really Cost to Embalm a Body?

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Most people don’t have much experience with embalming until the time comes to say goodbye to a beloved family member. Or, alternatively, until you start looking into embalming as part of creating your will. 

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Either way, you’ll want to know what the embalming process is like for the family members involved. And that includes the overall cost of embalming a body. 

The average cost of embalming is between $200 and $1,200. That’s a pretty wide price range, and there are a couple of factors that can make the cost even higher or lower. 

Below, we’ll break down what it really costs to embalm a body, so that you know exactly what to expect when you visit the funeral home. 

Breaking Down the Costs of Embalming

First, it’s important to review what embalming is. In short, embalming is a way to temporarily preserve a body. More specifically, it’s a complex physical and chemical process that delays natural decomposition for a few days to around a week. 

Embalming is popular in the US and the UK, but not worldwide. It’s often used when transporting a body across long distances and when burial or cremation can’t take place right away.

Embalming is an aesthetic choice, as well as a practical one. A family might choose embalming to give their loved one a more “life-like” appearance for an open-casket viewing. And some families feel that seeing a loved one’s body one last time, appearing as though they were “asleep,” helps with the grieving process. 

As mentioned above, the average cost of embalming a body ranges between about $200 and $1,200 in the US. But that price can be broken down into two separate pieces: actual embalming and aesthetic preparation. 

Actual embalming

Average cost: $200 to $800

The actual embalming process includes the following steps: 

  • Preparation: The body is cleaned, disinfected, and massaged to alleviate stiffness. 
  • Some reconstruction: The body is reconfigured into a natural position, and procedures are performed to correct its appearance. 
  • Arterial embalming: The mortician removes the blood from the body and simultaneously adds embalming chemicals into the arteries. 
  • Cavity embalming: Remaining fluid is removed from the organs, and the body cavity is filled with embalming fluid. 
  • Hypodermic embalming: A smaller needle is used to inject embalming fluid into any remaining areas. 
  • Surface embalming: The mortician applies embalming fluid, as needed, topically onto the body. 

The embalming process costs more or less depending on the state of the body when it arrives on the mortician’s table. Bodies that have been in an accident, and those that have been autopsied, cost more to embalm. Those that are in good condition and recently deceased cost the least to embalm. 

Aesthetic preparation

Average price range: $90 to $400

If the family chose embalming as a way to restore the body’s appearance prior to an open-casket viewing, the funeral home will also offer aesthetic body preparation services. The mortician performs the first part of this service before embalming and the final steps after embalming. 

Aesthetic preparation includes suturing and setting the face, placing eye caps, and setting the eyes in a natural position before embalming takes place. After embalming, it includes washing the body, dressing the body in the clothing you choose, applying makeup and styling the hair, and positioning the body in the casket. 

The cost of aesthetic preparation depends on how much work needs to be done to create a “life-like” appearance. Funeral homes usually bill for this service separately, but they might include it in the overall price tag if they have an all-inclusive service. 

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Is There a Way You Can Save Money on Embalming?

If you’ve decided on embalming, there are a few ways you can save money and still get high-quality embalming service. Here are some tips. 

Always shop around

Just like with any large purchase or investment, you can almost always save money by shopping around. This is especially true if you live in a larger city with several funeral homes nearby. Your options might be somewhat more limited if you live in a less populous area, but it’s still worth checking around for better pricing. 

The Federal Trade Commission provides a helpful “Funeral Pricing Checklist” to assist you through the process of price comparison. It also provides all of the information you need about funeral pricing regulations, including rules about embalming. 

Forgo the extras

Another way you can save money in the embalming process is by keeping things simple. If you’re not invested in the idea of an open-casket viewing or visitation, you can skip the bill for aesthetic preparation. 

This can keep the cost of embalming as low as $200, or even less, depending on the condition of the body. 

Stick to your funeral budget

There might not be a ton of wiggle-room when it comes to the cost of embalming. It largely depends on the funeral homes in your area and what they offer, as well as the condition of your loved one’s body. 

But you can keep embalming costs in mind when you’re setting a budget for the funeral and use those costs to guide your other decisions. 

For example, if embalming is important to you, you could shop online for a less expensive casket to make up the difference. Or if you’re still deciding whether embalming is the best choice or not, you could consider less costly alternatives. 

Are There Cheaper Alternatives to Embalming?

For many families, $200 to $1,200 is an expense they might not want or be able to spend if they don’t have to. And this cost comes in addition to other funerary fees, like the cost of a casket and the price of cremation and an urn or a burial plot and headstone. 

Luckily, there are cheaper alternatives to embalming if you’d rather save the money or put it towards other memorial costs. Here are some of your options. 

Direct burial

Direct burial is the process of burying a body immediately, without going through a preservation process or funeral. With direct burial, you typically can’t hold an open-casket viewing at a funeral home. But you can still choose whichever casket you want, including traditional hardwood or metal

Direct burial usually takes place within just a few days of the death, and that doesn’t leave much time for a traditional funeral. But you can still hold a memorial after the burial or have a burial service, instead. 

As a law, funeral homes have to offer direct burial, as long as it’s legal in your situation. And there are very few cases where embalming is required, legally. 

Natural or green burial

Natural burial (nicknamed “green burial”) is as friendly on your wallet as it is on the Earth. As an alternative to traditional burial with embalming, green burial costs less and leaves a smaller global footprint. 

You can keep the cost of natural burial low by choosing a cardboard or softwood casket, and by keeping the funeral service as simple as possible. 

Direct cremation

Another option is direct cremation, which is a popular alternative to burial. Instead of going through the embalming and restoration process, the funeral home takes the body directly to the crematory for cremation. 

Direct cremation is similar to immediate burial in that the final disposition (cremation or burial) takes place almost immediately after death. Direct cremation is also the lowest-cost final disposition option (apart from body donation) since it doesn’t require a casket or a plot. 

Most families who choose direct cremation hold a funeral or service afterward, with or without the ashes present. 

Medical donation

If you’re creating your own will and looking for low-cost alternatives to embalming, you might want to consider the option that’s completely free.

Donating your body to medicine or science comes with free cremation after the process is complete. The organization then returns your cremains to a designated family member. 

Choosing Embalming

Whether or not you choose embalming for yourself or a loved one is a personal decision. It’s one you should make based on your own beliefs and preferences, as well as how much you want to spend on the funeral and final disposition overall.

A funeral home might require embalming before you hold a viewing or open-casket visitation at their facility. But it’s important to know that embalming usually isn’t required by law, except in special circumstances. And a funeral home must disclose, in writing, their own requirements regarding embalming and provide transparent cost statements according to the FTC’s Funeral Law. 

Again, the decision to embalm (or not) comes down to you and your family. Ultimately, you should never feel pressured to undergo a process you don’t want or invest in a service you don’t need. 

If you're looking for more information on burial, read our guides on pine box caskets and mahogany caskets.


Sources

  1. “Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist.” Federal Trade Commission. www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0301-funeral-costs-and-pricing-checklist#Funeral_Pricing
  2. “Embalming Explained, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions.” Funeral Consumers Alliance. funerals.org/?consumers=embalming-what-you-should-know/
  3. “The Embalming Process Guide 2019: Is It Required For Cremation?” Cremation Institute. cremationinstitute.com/the-embalming-process/
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