Direct Cremate

Body Decomposition: What Happens Biologically After You Die

Body decomposition is a fact of life after death. Learn what happens biologically to a body after someone dies and what influences the process.
Body Decomposition: What Happens Biologically After You Die
Man measuring body composition balance, holding handles of a medical scales during Inbody test.

Body decomposition isn’t the easiest topic to discuss, but there’s undeniable interest in better understanding what happens to a body after someone dies. 

One of the biggest issues with traditional burial is the embalming fluid that is used to halt the decomposition process. But embalming fluid isn’t the only option, and it doesn’t protect against the potential spread of pathogens. Plus, embalming fluid could negatively impact an autopsy.

Before you choose a disposition method for yourself or a loved one, it helps to understand body decomposition since it plays a big role in when and how funeral services are provided.  

Body Composition and Decomposition

A person has roughly 100 trillion (with a T) cells in their body. When a person dies, all the cells immediately begin their own death. This kickstarts the body decomposition process.

Here’s a quick look at what the body is composed of:

Water – 64%

Protein 20%

Fat 10%

Minerals 5% 

Carbohydrates 1% 

After death if the body isn’t preserved in any way the proteins will begin releasing gasses. The carbohydrates turn into sugars while the fat turns into saturated fatty acids. At the same time enzymes in cells begin to self-digest, and microorganisms in the intestines start breaking down dead cells. Naturally-occuring bacteria begin moving around the body as well. 

The Stages of Body Decomposition 

There are four stages of body decomposition that naturally occur if there’s no intervention to preserve the body. They include:

Stage 1 – Initial

In days 1-6 after a death the initial decomposition will begin. Within 24 hours rigor mortis sets in making the body go stiff. Blood will begin to pool in the liver, the skin will get looser and cellular autolysis starts, which is essentially the self-digestion of cells. 

Stage 2 – Bloating

From one week to 23 days a body will bloat. Solids and gasses will also begin the liquefaction process, which simply means they turn to liquids. 

Stage 3 – Active Decaying

Active decaying of the body tissue doesn’t begin until around day 23 after a death, and generally ends around day 50. 

Stage 4 – Dry Decaying

Once the tissue has decayed all that is left is the skeletal remains. The dry decaying process will begin around 51 days post mortem. 

The body decomposition process actually takes much longer to complete than many people realize. As you can see by the stages outlined above, the process takes around two months.

Factors That Affect Decomposition

The decomposition stages have a range because the process can be sped up or slowed down depending on a number of factors. The top four things that impact the decomposition process are:


The hotter it is, the quicker decomposition will occur. A body that is kept at 100 degrees Fahrentheit will decompose twice as fast as a body that’s kept at 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


Humidity has the opposite effect on body decomposition. The more humid it is, the slower the decomposition will be. 

Oxygen Exposure

Exposure to oxygen speeds up decomposition, which is part of the reason why bodies that are sealed in caskets take much longer to decompose. 


Alkalinity refers to the amount of alkalis in a liquid. An alkaline is a chemical that creates ionic salt when it’s combined with acids. High alkalinity increases the rate of decomposition. 

At Direct Cremate we work with morgues, medical examiner offices and families to initiate the cremation process quickly. Direct cremation requires minimal preservation efforts because the service doesn’t include traditional funeral services. If you have questions, our team can answer them any hour of the day.