Whether you’re planning for your own funeral or the funeral of a family member, you’re sure to run into some terms you don’t know. Since most people don’t attend funerals or handle burial arrangements all that often, this information is not talked about until you find yourself in a situation where you need to make a decision.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Understanding the Basics of Caskets
- What’s a Sealed Casket?
- What’s an Unsealed Casket?
- Sealed vs. Unsealed Casket: 3 Differences to Know
While most people know bodies are buried in caskets unless the individual chose one of these burial alternatives, how much do you know about the specifics of caskets? Your loved one’s casket or coffin has a lot of variations, and there are additional decisions you might need to make.
One of the most common questions is what’s the difference between a sealed casket and an unsealed casket. In this guide, we’ll tackle these key differences so you can make an informed decision.
Understanding the Basics of Caskets
Before we begin, we need to discuss some of the basics of caskets. First and foremost, it’s important to mention that caskets cannot protect the body forever. Caskets are primarily a stylistic way to encase the body, but there is no way to improve how they function.
Caskets are either half-couch or full-couch. This refers to the lid, which can either be in a separate piece (half couch) or one piece (full couch). The casket is then lined with some kind of fabric. It may or may not be leakproof.
Caskets also have a memory tube that screws into the casket. This is in case something happens and the body needs to be identified. Finally, the casket might have some kind of decoration or ornamentation on the exterior. This forms the basics of how a casket functions.
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What’s a Sealed Casket?
First, let’s explain what a sealed casket is. A sealed casket has a protective, air-tight seal between the lid and the body of the casket. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these types of caskets use the terms “gasketed,” “protective,” or “sealer.” If the casket doesn’t include this formal description, it’s not sealed, according to FTC standards.
A sealed casket, contrary to popular belief, isn’t designed to protect the body. It’s designed to protect the casket itself. A lot of people mistakenly think the seal keeps the body from decomposing, but the opposite is true. The seal increases the rate of decomposition. For caskets laid to rest in a crypt or mausoleum, the cemetery intentionally breaks the seal to avoid this accelerated decomposition.
Tip: You can shop for gasketed, sealed caskets at your local funeral home, but you can also buy them online. It's always important to compare prices when you're investing in a casket. We like this bronze-finish casket, which has full rubber gasketing.
Why seal a casket?
Though a casket seal doesn’t decrease the rate of decomposition, there are still several reasons why this might be a good option.
- Transport: If the body needs to travel, especially by air, a seal may be required. Sealing the casket is usually requested by most modern airlines to prevent liquids from escaping. Sealed caskets are the norm when transporting a body.
- Public health: If the individual died of a virus or illness that’s a risk for the public, a sealed container is to reduce the risk of contagion or infection.
- Protect the body: While a sealed casket does nothing to decrease the decomposition process, it does protect the body from the elements, bacteria, and moisture.
- Environment: Finally, sealing is recommended for embalmed bodies that are laid to rest in the ground. Because embalming involves many chemicals that are harmful to the environment, this is a good way to secure everything inside safely.
As you can see, there are a few reasons why sealing the casket might be necessary. Since this is a more expensive option to consider on top of the burial plot cost
What’s an Unsealed Casket?
An unsealed casket is the opposite of a sealed casket. It’s when the casket doesn’t have an air-tight seal between the lid and body of the container. The casket might be prone to more damage, such as water damage. However, the body decomposes at a slower rate and there is very little difference in the appearance of the casket.
Ultimately, there isn’t much benefit to having a sealed casket. A lot of families understandably don’t like the term “unsealed” since it implies the casket is less secure, but this isn’t really the case. All caskets are closed carefully, and there is little risk of the lid breaking open for any reason.
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Why leave the casket unsealed?
Like with sealed caskets, there are a few reasons to simply leave it unsealed. There are several drawbacks to sealing a casket. Not only does it retain more moisture over time and increase air pressure, but it’s not always practical.
- Cost: The biggest reason not to seal the casket is the cost. An unsealed casket costs consumers up to hundreds of dollars less than a sealed casket. This saves families a lot of money when it matters most.
- Mausoleum or crypt burial: If the bodies are buried above ground, most of the time it needs to be unsealed to slow down the decay of the body.
- Wooden caskets: Finally, wooden and other eco-friendly caskets are not ever sealed. Wood is naturally porous, so sealing won’t protect it from moisture damage. In addition, wooden caskets are designed to break down into the soil over time, which defeats the purpose of sealing.
While there is no right or wrong option when it comes to choosing a casket, make sure you’re opting for the right choice for your situation.
Sealed vs. Unsealed Casket: 3 Differences to Know
We’ve hinted at some of the biggest differences between sealed and unsealed caskets, but now let’s take a closer look. Again, there is no “best” choice. It all depends on the right fit for your needs.
First, sealed caskets cost more. Though the materials needed to permanently close the casket (usually rubber) are relatively inexpensive, they usually cost consumers up to $200 more depending on the specific model.
In addition, metal caskets are the ones usually sealed, which also increases the cost compared to wooden caskets. If cost is your biggest concern, an unsealed casket is the right choice.
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All bodies decay. It doesn’t matter how they’re preserved, whether they’re embalmed, or if they’re in a sealed or unsealed casket. But, bodies in unsealed caskets decompose at a slower rate than those in unsealed containers.
This has to do with the air pressure and moisture inside sealed caskets, which speeds the process along. While it ultimately won’t make a difference once buried, this is something to keep in mind.
While a sealed casket won’t protect the body from decaying faster, it will protect from leak damage. Unfortunately, there are instances of water damage or other types of damage, especially in emergencies.
While this isn’t always a concern, some places are more at risk than others. For example, in New Orleans, since the city is below sea level, it’s not uncommon for the coffins to “escape” from the ground. Consider where the body is buried when deciding on the type of coffin to prevent this type of catastrophe.
Alternatives to Sealed Caskets
Depending on the reason why you want or need a casket that's sealed, you may have other options. Here are some ideas:
- Natural burial and green caskets. As mentioned, sealed caskets actually increase the rate of decomposition. However, they prevent the remains inside from reintegrating with the earth and soil. If you want a quick decomposition, but would prefer a more natural process, consider a green casket and natural burial. We like this rattan wicker casket, as well as this pine casket.
- Cremation before travel. If the reason you need a sealed casket is to transport a body, consider creating the remains, instead. Of course, not everyone wants to be cremated, but doing so makes transport much, much easier. You could even send the ashes in to a service like Parting Stone, which transforms the ashes into solidified cremation stones that are easy to move and carry.
- Burial vault. If the reason you want a sealed casket is to keep the buried body in place, you may consider a burial vault. In many areas prone to flooding, a burial vault is required by the cemetery. You can learn more about burial vaults here.
Choosing the Right Casket for Your Needs
Depending on who you talk to, you’re bound to run into a lot of different opinions about which caskets are best. When it comes to laying your loved ones to rest, you want to make a smart choice based on your needs. While the term “sealed casket” might lead you to believe that’s the better choice, that isn’t always the case. A sealed casket does little to protect the body in most cases, and it’s not usually needed except in certain circumstances.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons of sealed vs. unsealed. Now that you know the facts, you’re ready to make a smart choice. Have you given much thought to how you’d like to be buried? Start end-of-life planning for yourself to make sure your wishes are honored when the time comes.