Alternatives to Embalming


Posted on May 10, 2016 by

Embalming is not the only means of temporarily preserving a body prior to burial or cremation. In fact, the United States and Canada are the only countries in which embalming is still considered common practice, with countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, and Scandinavia having banned it years ago. If you are seeking alternative ways to preserve yourself or a loved one prior to final disposition, you can consider any of the budget-friendly and effective methods below:  

Refrigeration & Cooling

Whether you are holding a home viewing, seeking ways to cut costs, or preserving your loved one for a burial at a later date, ensuring the body is kept cool is a proven and effective means of temporary preservation. Simply placing ice packs, gel packs, or dry-ice on critical points of the body slows the rate of decomposition. It is recommended to place the cooling agents beneath the body to cool it from below, changing the ice or gel packs every couple hours and dry-ice every 24 hours. If you prefer refrigeration for temporary preservation, contact local funeral homes or cremation providers and inquire about their refrigeration units. Not all funeral homes will have a refrigeration unit, though most have access to one located off-site. If the deceased passed away in a hospital or donated their organs and you have yet to finalize the method or provider of death care, hospital morgues have refrigeration units that can be utilized, free of charge, while you decide.

Immediate Burial

Direct or immediate burials are offered by all funeral homes. Since immediate burials do not include a viewing or visitation at the funeral home, embalming is not required. The burial normally takes place shortly after the death and at a time most convenient to the funeral director. if the funeral is to occur after a few days, refrigeration, ice packs, or dry-ice may be used to temporarily preserve the body. Funeral homes reserve the right to prohibit or decline to host a public viewing of an un-embalmed body, though some funeral directors will allow you to add on a graveside service to the direct burial package at the cost of a graveside service listed on the general price list. If immediate burial is chosen and you would like a family viewing or visitation, in most states you can opt to have one within 48 hours at home or you can have a memorial service at your location of choice following the burial.

Direct Cremation

Similar to immediate burials, direct cremation is required to be offered by all funeral homes and removes the need for embalming since there is no public viewing or funeral service prior to cremation. Nearly half of Americans choose to be cremated each year, making it one of the fastest growing methods of disposition in the funeral industry and a popular alternative to a full-service funeral and burial. Prior to cremation, home viewings may take place without embalming, and memorials services (without the body present) can be held following it. In the time between death and cremation, refrigeration, ice packs, gel packs and dry-ice may be used to delay decomposition. If you are considering cremation, but are concerned about the environmental impact or cost, consider choosing a more fuel-efficient cremation container like a shroud, cardboard container, or cremation casket. You are not obligated to choose only from the containers offered to you by the crematorium and may supply them with a container of your choice from a third party (Funeral Rules).

Resomation & "Bio-Cremation"

Resomation is an emerging alternative to burial and flame-based cremation. The process uses a mix of heated water, potassium hydroxide, and pressure to speed up the natural decomposition of muscle and tissue, leaving behind bones, which are then ground into a fine ash similar to the remains of flame-based cremation. It is sometimes referred to as "water-based cremation," "bio-cremation," or Alkaline Hydrolysis and is considered more eco-friendly than its flame-based counterpart. It uses only 10% of the energy used in flame-based cremation and produces no harmful air emissions. While its use is yet to be widespread in the USA, public knowledge and the 'green burial' movement has caused it gain traction. Resomation, Alkaline Hydrolysis and "bio-cremation" are now legal in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Oregon with legislation being considered in New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. For more on this topic, see: Alkaline Hydrolysis: A Greener Cremation or Ashes to Ashes, A video on Cremation by Water.


If you still wish to have the body embalmed, but would prefer not to use formaldehyde, traditional embalming fluid can be replaced with non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, formaldehyde-free embalming fluid, such as Enigma, per your request. Enigma is made from bio-degradable essential oils, like glutaraldehyde, to temporarily preserve the body. Glutaraldehyde is used as a preservative, to sterilize medical and dental equipment, and in industrial water treating. While chemical exposure will not be completely eliminated with Enigma, it will be greatly reduced and it is the only preparation product certified by the Green Burial Council.

Need Help with Funeral Planning?

Gain access to our FREE funeral planning tools such as our Funeral Planning Checklist, My Funeral Wishes, Memorials, and more when you sign up for a FREE Funerals360 account!

Start Planning