What Is Embalming?

Whether a loved one will be buried or cremated, embalming allows family and friends an opportunity to spend time with that person for a visitation or viewing and to experience the meaningful closure those moments can provide.


Embalming works by using preservative solutions to replace the bodily fluids that circulate in life. It lets a family see a deceased loved one in a peaceful state, presented with care and dignity. However, a loved one may be present at a viewing or service, even if not embalmed.

Do you have to be embalmed?

Generally, no. Embalming is very common in the United States and Canada, but it’s not required in most cases. Some states have laws that make embalming mandatory under specific circumstances. Most commonly, embalming is required for:

  • International transportation.
  • Transport by airplane (some airlines have rules that require embalming in addition to state laws).
  • Loved ones who will not be buried or cremated within a certain timeframe, when refrigeration is not available.
  • Loved ones with certain infectious diseases, when the family wishes for a viewing.

In addition, if someone passes away in one state and is being transported to another (interstate transportation), embalming may be required, depending on state law.

Separate from state laws, some funeral homes may require embalming for a funeral with a viewing, and some cemetery regulations may include embalming. Reach out to the funeral director and/or cemetery manager if you have any questions about embalming requirements.

If you opt to forgo embalming for your loved one, many states will require refrigeration. Funeral homes have standard charges for both embalming and refrigeration, and they will typically charge for one or the other, not both.

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Are there alternatives to embalming?

Families have all kinds of reasons not to embalm deceased loved ones. For example, some religions, including Judaism and Islam, don’t allow embalming as part of their funeral traditions. In other cases, a person simply may not like the idea.

Alternatives to embalming include:

  • Immediate burial. A family may choose to arrange burial very soon after a loved one passes, without a viewing or funeral beforehand. In the short time between the person's passing and the burial, the funeral home may use temperature control to protect the loved one. With this option, a graveside service is still possible in most cases. 
  • Direct cremation. A family may choose to arrange a cremation very soon after a loved one passes, without a visitation or funeral beforehand. As with immediate burial, the funeral home or crematory may use temperature-control methods. A family might hold a scattering ceremony or celebration of life after the cremation. Ashes can also be memorialized in a cemetery, with or without a graveside service.
  • Human composting. An alternative option to burial or cremation, human composting uses organic materials to help transform a loved one's body into nutrient-filled soil, which loved ones could scatter in a meaningful place, such as a beautiful memorial garden.
  • Alternative burial. There are choices a family can make when burying a loved one variety that may reduce the impact on the planet. An organization called Green Burial Council has outlined standards for alternative burial, which include the option to not embalm a loved one and biodegradable burial containers.
  • Alternative embalming. Gentle, formaldehyde-free solutions are available for preserving a loved one's body for a visitation or viewing before a funeral or cremation.

Note: Not all Dignity Memorial® providers will offer all options. Speak with your funeral director for details.

Plan a funeral or cremation

If you don’t want embalming for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to understand you don’t have to choose it in most cases. Working with a Dignity Memorial funeral director, you and your family can share your wishes, review the options and select the services that fit best with your culture, religion and personal preferences. 

Understand funeral and cremation costs.

Download our Guide to Understanding Funeral & Cremation Costs.