Chemical Undertakings

Maddie L. and Haley W.

Body Preserving Methods

  • Ancient Egyptian Practices
  1. used beeswax to cover scars, and natron to dehydrate the body.
  2. used cedar oil to stop the opening of the anus and natron to dehydrate the body.
  3. used natron to dry the body and wrapped the body in linen.       
  • Ancient Persian Practice
  1. immersed the dead bodies in jars of honey and wax.
  • Further Advances
  1. Greco-Romans used embalming fluids that contained mixtures of turpentine, camphor, lavender oil, vermilion (mercury sulfide), wine, rosin, and saltpeter.
  2. Gabriel Clauderus published a book describing an embalming method using "balsamic spirit", which was made of cream of tartar, salammoniac, and water.
  3. William Hunter outlined a method of arterial and cavity embalming that consisted of a mixture of turpentine and camphor.
  4. Problems with harmful bacteria led to a patent on an embalming fluid containing salts of heavy metals (such as arsenic, antimony, lead, mercury, and copper).
  • Formaldehyde  

-Two Reactions:

  1. The first involves the formation of methylene glycol, which preserves tissue.
  2. The second reacts with oxygen to yield formic acid.
  3. Materials such as methanol, methyl salicylate, and other buffers are added to prevent excess formic acid, which can make formaldehyde pigments on the body.


  1. An embalming fluid needs to be able to neutralize the bodies acidic blood to optimize cell fixation. Boric acid and borax or sodium bicarbonate and dibasic sodium phosphate are common buffer pairs that ensures appropriate pH.

-Glutaraldehyde (A Replacement for Formaldehyde)      

  • Stronger protein bonding.
  • Larger number of cross-links for cell fixation.
  • More stable (less easily hydrolyzed). 
  • Retains body's natural texture and even coloration.
  • Can severely irritate the skin and eyes.
  • 5 to 8 times more expensive than formaldehyde (this is the main reason that formaldehyde is still the number one embalming fluid in the US).

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