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Where does the blood go after embalming?

Embalming is the process of preserving a deceased person’s body from decay, allowing it to be suitable for public display at a funeral. During embalming, the blood is drained from the body and replaced with embalming fluid. This preserves the tissues and restores a life-like appearance to the body. The embalming process raises the question: where does the blood go after it is drained from the body during embalming? There are a few places the blood may end up.

Down the Drain

One of the most common practices is for the blood drained during embalming to be disposed of down the drain. Funeral homes usually have special embalming rooms with sinks and plumbing designed for this purpose. As the blood drains out through incisions made at the carotid arteries, it flows through tubes into the sink and down the drain, entering the sewage system.

This is a convenient method of disposing of the blood. However, some have raised concerns that large amounts of blood entering the sewage system could potentially disrupt wastewater treatment processes. The blood contains organic matter that must be broken down. Proteins and cells in the blood can also increase biological oxygen demand, which is the amount of oxygen required by aerobic microorganisms to break down organic matter. This could make wastewater treatment less efficient.

However, funeral directors counter that the amount of blood drained from each body is relatively small compared to the large volumes of wastewater processed by treatment plants. The blood gets significantly diluted as it mixes with all the wastewater. So the impact on treatment processes is negligible. Most municipalities allow funeral homes to dispose of drained embalming blood down the sewer drain for this reason.

Solid Waste Landfills

Some funeral directors prefer not to put embalming blood down the drains. An alternate method is to collect the blood in containers and dispose of it with other biological waste headed for solid waste landfills. Blood is considered a biohazard material, so it must be carefully contained and handled with protective equipment to avoid spills.

The blood containers are labeled as medical waste and taken to a regulated medical waste facility. Here the containers are usually incinerated to destroy any microorganisms in the blood. In some cases, the blood may be specially treated via autoclaving or chemical disinfection before being sent to a landfill for disposal.

One advantage of incinerating or treating the blood before landfilling is it reduces the chances of the blood contaminating groundwater if it leaks out of the landfill. However, the downside is this disposal method requires more labor and costs to handle the blood containers. It also diverts the biohazard waste away from the wastewater treatment system designed to process such waste.

Absorbent Products

Some embalmers use absorbent powder or gel products to help solidify blood drained during embalming before disposal. These products turn the blood into a thickened gel-like substance when mixed together. Absorbent powders contain compounds like bentonite, calcium alginate, or chitosans which absorb and bind the moisture in blood.

The absorber-treated blood can then be scooped into containers and disposed of as solid waste. It may be incinerated or sent to a landfill. The advantage of solidifying the blood is it reduces the risk of spills compared to draining plain liquid blood. It also decreases the biohazard risks since the blood is essentially turned into a solid. However, the absorbent products add extra costs to the embalming process. The resultant blood gel still requires careful disposal.

Sanitary Sewer System

In some areas, funeral homes may have special permission to dispose of embalming blood in the sanitary sewer system rather than the storm drainage system. This blood is flushed down toilets or specially designated sinks that connect to sewer pipes leading directly to the wastewater treatment plant.

At the treatment plant, the blood receives full treatment just like all the other sewage. Treatment processes like screening, skimming tanks, sedimentation, biological digestion, and disinfection are designed to process and remove contaminants in wastewater before the treated water is discharged. Any blood present gets effectively broken down and diluted.

The main advantage of this method is that it keeps the blood completely isolated from the storm drainage system and local bodies of water. However, the funeral home needs access to appropriate sanitary sewer plumbing. Plus, the wastewater treatment plant must approve accepting embalming blood into their system.

On-site Disposal

In some rural areas, funeral homes may dispose of embalming blood on their own property if permitted. This involves collecting the blood, then burying or composting it on-site. Burying is done by digging a hole and covering the blood with at least 2 feet of soil. Composting requires mixing the blood with carbon-rich materials like sawdust or yard waste until it breaks down.

The benefit of on-site disposal is it keeps the biohazard waste completely contained at the funeral home property. No transport or handling of the waste is required. However, the funeral home must have suitable land and meet regulations for disposing of medical waste. There are also concerns about contamination of soil and groundwater without oversight. So this option is only feasible in certain remote locations.

Medical Waste Transport

Finally, some funeral homes contract with medical waste transport companies to dispose of embalming blood. The blood is collected in approved hazardous waste containers. When full, a specialized medical waste hauler picks up the containers and transports them directly to a regulated medical waste disposal facility.

Here the blood may be incinerated or chemically treated to neutralize the biohazard risk before disposal. Using a professional medical waste company takes the responsibility of handling and disposing of the blood off the funeral home’s premises. However, contracting with the waste haulers and disposal facilities adds to the funeral home’s operating costs.


There are a variety of methods that funeral homes employ to handle the disposal of blood drained from bodies during the embalming process. Each has its advantages and disadvantages regarding cost, practicality, safety, and environmental impact. Given the biohazard risks involved with handling blood, most funeral directors utilize disposal methods that are legal and approved for their region. They aim to handle the waste in the safest, most responsible manner possible. Regardless of the disposal method used, the embalming procedure serves the crucial function of preserving and sanitizing the body for a final public viewing.

Disposal Method Advantages Disadvantages
Sewer Drain
  • Convenient
  • Diluted in wastewater
  • Could disrupt wastewater treatment
Solid Waste Landfill
  • Reduces biohazard risk
  • Increased cost and labor
  • Diverts from wastewater system
Absorbent Products
  • Solidifies blood for safer handling
  • Added cost of products
  • Still requires careful disposal
Sanitary Sewer
  • Isolates from storm drainage
  • Gets full sewage treatment
  • Requires approved plumbing access
On-site Disposal
  • Contained on funeral home property
  • Risk of contamination
  • Limited approved locations
Medical Waste Transport
  • Removes waste offsite
  • Handled by professionals
  • Added costs