This is what embalmers do


Embalmers arrange for the removal of bodies of deceased persons from the place of death and they prepare the bodies for burials and cremations. They clean and disinfect the bodies, use make-up to create the impression of a more natural appearance and hide any visible damage. They are in close contact with funeral services directors in order to comply with the wishes of the deceased family members.

Includes funeral services director.

Embalmers typically do the following:

  • look after bodies with care and respect for their dignity
  • wash and disinfect bodies to prevent deterioration and infection
  • remove fluids and gases from the body and replace them with preservatives
  • use plaster of Paris or wax to restore the appearance of bodies after injury
  • wash and style hair and apply make up
  • work with funeral arrangers to make sure that the family’s wishes are met
  • keep the mortuary clean to meet health and safety regulations
  • complete paperwork required by law

Working conditions

Funeral services traditionally take place in a house of worship, in a funeral home, or at a gravesite or crematory. However, some families prefer to hold the service in their home or in a social center.

Embalmers typically perform their duties in a funeral home. They also may operate a merchandise display room, crematory, or cemetery, which may be on the funeral home premises. The work is often stressful, because workers must arrange the various details of a funeral within 24 to 72 hours of a death. In addition, they may be responsible for managing multiple funerals on the same day.

Although embalmers may come into contact with bodies that have contagious diseases, the work is not dangerous if proper safety and health regulations are followed. Those working in crematories are exposed to high temperatures and must wear appropriate protective clothing.

Work Schedules

Most embalmers are employed full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. They are often on call; irregular hours, including evenings and weekends, are common.

Minimum qualifications

Embalmers need an associate or a bachelor’s degree to work in this field. They can earn their degree in mortuary science, anatomy, biology or another related field. Courses in these programs include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry and pathology.

Most embalmers receive on-the-job training from an experienced embalmer or embalming assistant. This training helps the new employee learn the specific techniques and procedures required for the job.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Embalmer is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Embalmer career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to embalmer.

funeral attendant
funeral services director
cemetery attendant
hearse driver
hairdresser assistant

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of embalmer. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of embalmer with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

drugstore manager
social security officer
bicycle shop manager
craft shop manager
kitchen and bathroom shop manager

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of embalmer.

  • Cosmetics: The various types of substances used to enhance the appearance of the human body.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of embalmer.

  • Cooperate with funeral directors: Make arrangements and work together with funeral directors who provide funeral services for people buried on the cemetery under your responsibility.
  • Embalm bodies: Prepare bodies for funeral ceremonies, by cleaning and disinfecting them, using make-up to create the impression of a natural appearance and hiding or correcting any visible damages or injuries.
  • Promote human rights: Promote and respect human rights and diversity in light of the physical, psychological, spiritual and social needs of autonomous individuals, taking into account their opinions, beliefs and values, and the international and national codes of ethics, as well as the ethical implications of healthcare provision, ensuring their right to privacy and honouring for the confidentiality of healthcare information.
  • Move bodies: Move bodies yourself or arrange transport from the place of death to the morgue or funeral home, in and out of the hearse and from the funeral home to the cemetery.
  • Maintain professional administration: File and organise professional administration documents comprehensively, keep customer records, fill in forms or log books and prepare documents about company-related matter.
  • Work with chemicals: Handle chemicals and select specific ones for certain processes. Be aware of the reactions which arise from combining them.
  • Dress bodies: Put on clothes on bodies of deceased persons, chosen or provided by the deceased one’s relatives.
  • Apply health and safety standards: Adhere to standards of hygiene and safety established by respective authorities.
  • Show diplomacy: Deal with people in a sensitive and tactful way.
  • Maintain inventory of tools: Keep an inventory of tools utilised in manufacturing or in the provision of services. Ensure that tool sets remain complete and suitable for use.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of embalmer. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Biology: Tissues, cells, and functions of plant and animal organisms and their interdependencies and interactions with each other and the environment.
  • Dermasurgery techniques: Techniques used to reshape or reconstruct disfigured skin or body parts.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of embalmer. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Work ergonomically: Apply ergonomy principles in the organisation of the workplace while manually handling equipment and materials.
  • Liaise with local authorities: Maintain the liaison and exchange of information with regional or local authorities.
  • Manage staff: Manage employees and subordinates, working in a team or individually, to maximise their performance and contribution. Schedule their work and activities, give instructions, motivate and direct the workers to meet the company objectives. Monitor and measure how an employee undertakes their responsibilities and how well these activities are executed. Identify areas for improvement and make suggestions to achieve this. Lead a group of people to help them achieve goals and maintain an effective working relationship among staff.
  • Advise on funeral services: Provide relatives of the deceased person with information and advice on ceremonial, burial and cremation services.
  • Transfer coffins: Lift and carry coffins prior and during the funeral service, placing it in the chapel and into the cemetery.
  • Handle chemical cleaning agents: Ensure proper handling, storage and disposal of cleaning chemicals in accordance with regulations.
  • Assist police investigations: Assist in police investigations by providing them with specialised information as a professional involved in the case, or by providing witness accounts, in order to ensure the police have all relevant information for the case.
  • Clean rooms: Clean rooms by cleaning glasswork and windows, polishing furniture, vacuuming carpets, scrubing hard floors, and removing garbage.
  • Assist with funeral planning: Aid the families of patients with terminal illnesses with issues related to the organisation of the funeral.
  • Provide directions to guests: Show guests the way through buildings or on domains, to their seats or performance setting, helping them with any additional information so that they can reach the foreseen event destination.
  • Administer appointments: Accept, schedule and cancel appointments.
  • Lift heavy weights: Lift heavy weights and apply ergonomic lifting techniques to avoid damaging the body.
  • Apply organisational techniques: Employ a set of organisational techniques and procedures which facilitate the achievement of the goals set. Use these resources efficiently and sustainably, and show flexibility when required.
  • Prepare ceremonial locations: Decorate rooms or other locations for ceremonies, such as funerals, cremations, weddings or baptism.

ISCO group and title

5163 – Undertakers and embalmers

  1. Embalmer – ESCO
  2. Funeral Service Workers : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Embalmer | Explore careers – National Careers Service
  4. Embalmer Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More – Climb the Ladder
  5. Featured image: By C Watts – https://www.flickr.com/photos/126288307@N05/21860559246, CC BY 2.0
Last updated on November 12, 2022

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