How to Become an Embalmer

Do you have an interest in human anatomy and excellent interpersonal skills? This career might be right up your alley.

embalmer preparing corpse

Embalming is more of a calling than a profession. Although it can be gruesome, it’s also incredibly rewarding as you help people through some of the most painful times of their lives. But, because you may be on call 24/7 and the work is so demanding - often requiring you to work during holidays. It’s important for you to fully understand what it means to become an embalmer.

What is an embalmer?

Embalming is the process of preserving human remains from the time of death until burial or cremation. Embalmers treat the bodies of the deceased using embalming fluid and sanitising agents, and provide support to bereaved families. Although not the most conventional career path, if you are understanding, creative, passionate about science and have few formal qualifications, you could become an embalmer.

Research the job description

Embalmers perform the following duties:

  • Preserve human remains to prevent deterioration and infection
  • Reconstruct damaged parts and apply cosmetics to improve appearance
  • Order embalming supplies, such as chemicals and bandages
  • Ensure the mortuary is clean and meets health standard
  • Collaborate with funeral arrangers to ensure families’ wishes are met and fill any legal paperwork

Work environment

Embalmers work between 8am and 5pm, Monday through Friday. But, they often work late into the evening during busy periods. Emergency call-ins are also common.

While at work, embalmers wear protective clothing, such as gloves, boots and theatre gowns, to avoid contracting infections and minimise exposure to embalming chemicals and freezing conditions typical of mortuaries.

Expected salary

The salary information for embalmers is as tabulated:

  • Beginning embalmers - £18,000
  • Experienced embalmers - Up to £28,000

Essential requirements

You don’t usually need any advanced qualifications, but you will need to be licensed by a governing body such as the British Institute of Embalmers who have a list of accredited tutors. If you are already working in the funeral industry, then you can probably get help with or on the job training from your employer. The training course lasts 2 years and requirements for entry are GCSEs in math, English, biology or chemistry.

Your training will involve a foundation unit focusing on the human body, principles of embalming and mortuary health and safety. To become a fully registered BIE member, you will need to complete a further course that focuses on:

  • Physiology
  • Embalming theatre and equipment
  • Anatomy
  • Practical embalming skills

Important skills and abilities

To be a good embalmer you should have:

  • Empathy to recognise the feelings of the bereaved families
  • A high level of attention to detail and ability to follow instructions
  • An interest in human anatomy, chemistry and science
  • Good interpersonal skills to interact with the bereaved families in a friendly manner
  • Good eye-hand coordination
  • The ability to use surgical tools effectively
  • Mental strength to work alone for long periods of time or without supervision
  • A strong stomach to deal with bad smells and strange or unusual sights
  • Respect for various cultural backgrounds, beliefs and religion

Future employment ppportunities

Aspiring embalmers can look for jobs in:

  • Funeral homes
  • Research facilities
  • Medical laboratories

If you gain sufficient experience as an embalmer, you could become a mortician or funeral service director where you are more involved with helping families arrange for the burial or cremation of their loved ones. This is basically a move into management.

The National Careers Service forecasts that the UK’s caring services industry will create about 250,000 new jobs between 2014 and 2022. This means embalmers can expect to have plenty of employment opportunities.

Lastly, it is important to note that the embalming profession is not all about making a living; it is also about helping bereaved families organise decent send offs for their deceased members.

It is certainly not a career for everyone, and you have to be capable of working with dead bodies. But, if you are ok with this and are also creative then you may find this a rewarding career.

Have you ever considered this as a possible career? Let us know in the comments section below…


This article was originally published in July 2014.