Examining the Impact of Casket Waterproofing on Body Decomposition

When it comes to funeral services, the choice of casket is a critical factor that affects the rate at which a body decomposes post-burial. Although decomposition sets in right after death, the rate of decomposition varies widely. Bodies that are embalmed and placed in caskets, which are further protected by grave liners or burial vaults, can take a decade or even longer to reduce to bones.

Debunking Waterproof Casket Myths

It’s commonly questioned whether caskets are waterproof and how effective their seals are. The truth is, no casket can be fully waterproof or completely airtight. Even those marketed as sealed can only resist moisture and bacteria for a limited time before their sealing mechanisms start to fail. This applies regardless of whether the casket is made of metal (including stainless or regular steel), various types of wood, fiberboard, or wood veneer. Over time, all these materials will degrade due to environmental factors, leading to moisture entering and speeding up decomposition.

Comparing Lifespans: Metal vs. Wood Caskets

Metal caskets are often more durable than wooden ones. Some are sold with warranties that last up to 50 years, though these warranties often serve more symbolic purposes than practical ones. Generally, metal caskets begin to rust and corrode after about 20 years, mainly because their seals deteriorate.

On the other hand, wooden caskets, which are naturally porous, allow water to seep in almost as soon as they are buried. Though full decomposition is slower, the type of wood, along with any surface treatments and the environmental conditions, such as soil moisture and temperature, play significant roles in how quickly they decay. Typically, wooden caskets begin to decompose and rot within ten years, especially in moist soil conditions.

Understanding Sealed Caskets

Despite their widespread use, sealed or gasketed caskets, often made from metal with a rubber seal, are not effective in preventing long-term decomposition. These gaskets temporarily block water, air, and microbial ingress, only delaying, not halting, the natural breakdown process. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has set guidelines that prevent funeral directors from claiming these products significantly slow down decomposition.

Uses of Sealed Caskets Beyond Decomposition Prevention

Sealed caskets are primarily used not for halting decomposition but for ensuring safer and more sanitary transport of bodies over distances or via air travel. For instance, airlines typically require a sealed casket to mitigate the risk of contamination and manage odours during flights. This is particularly important when a deceased is being transported back to their place of origin for burial.

The Integral Role of Funeral Parlours and Funeral Directors

Funeral parlours and funeral directors play a pivotal role in helping families decide on the right type of casket. They offer crucial insights into the advantages and limitations of each casket type, based on the materials and construction techniques used. Ethical communication about the true capabilities of these caskets, especially regarding their claims of being waterproof and airtight, ensures that families make well-informed choices, adhering to ethical standards like those outlined in the FTC Funeral Rule.


While sealed caskets may provide temporary advantages by slowing decomposition and easing transportation, they cannot offer a permanent solution against the natural processes that eventually reclaim our bodies. Funeral directors and parlours are crucial in setting realistic expectations and assisting families in selecting the right casket, considering comfort, style, and functionality.

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