How Long Does It Take For A Body To Decompose (And Why)?

Exact Answer: 1 Month

Human body decomposition is a natural process involving the breakdown of tissues after death. These charges stem from two factors- the ceasing of biological functions in the body and the spread and action of bacteria and other microbes after death.

This process begins 24 hours after death and can take around 20 years, depending on various factors like temperature, oxygen levels, pH, moisture and body position.

How Long Does It Take For A Body To Decompose?

The process of decomposition begins 24-72 hours after death. Internal organs are the first to decompose. 3 to 5 days later, the body starts to bloat.

Following this, the body changes colour from green to red as the blood decomposes and fluids leak out through orifices. This process occurs 8 to 10 days after death.

Eventually, nails and teeth fall out, and the body starts to liquefy. A human body can take one month to several years to fully decompose, leaving behind the skeleton, which takes over 20 years to decompose into the soil.

The rate of decomposition depends on several factors, especially the location of the body. Generally, a body can be underwater or buried in the soil.

Scientists have discovered that a body decomposes twice as fast in the soil compared to underwater. Hence, if a body decomposes in a week in the ground, the same would occur in two weeks in cold water.

Furthermore, the rate of decomposition depends on if the body is buried in a coffin or embalmed. A coffin or embalming fluid can add additional years to the process of decay, depending on the type of funeral box.

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In summary,

ProcessTime Taken
Internal organs decompose24 to 72 hours
Bloating3 to 5 days
Fluids released from orifices8 to 10 days
Decomposition of soft tissues, muscle and skin1 month or longer
Decomposition of skeleton20 years

Why Does It Take So Long For A Body To Decompose?

Human decomposition consists of four stages- autolysis, bloating, active decay, and skeletonization.

The first stage, autolysis, begins 24 hours after death. As soon as blood circulation and respiration stops, the body can not remove wastes. Excess carbon dioxide makes the internal environment acidic and causes the cells to rupture. Hence, internal organs begin decomposing.

The second stage, bloating, occurs because leaking enzymes begin producing many gasses. Three to five days after death, the body doubles in size due to the accumulating gasses. In addition, insect and bacteria activity can release unpleasant odors that can last even after removing the body.

During the third stage (8 to 10 days after death), fluid is released through orifices, indicating the beginning of active decay. During this stage, the body’s soft tissues, muscles, skin, and blood decompose. However, the by-products remain. The cadaver loses most mass during this stage. 

Lastly, the final stage involves decomposing the skeleton. Skeleton decomposition depends on the loss of organic and inorganic compounds. This process takes 20 or more years.

The decomposition rate depends on various factors like temperature, pH, oxygen level, and moisture. These are the factors that govern why a body takes twice the amount of time to decompose in water compared to in soil.

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When a body begins decomposing in cold water, the bacterial action that causes the body to bloat with gas slows down, and the body remains on the seabed. Furthermore, water encourages the formation of adipocere. This waxy, soapy substance formed from the fat in the body partially protects it from decomposition. Hence, the process takes a long time in cold water.

In soil, on the other hand, a body decomposes much faster due to higher temperatures and the presence of soil microorganisms. Higher temperature increases the bacteria growth encouraging decomposition.

Furthermore, the pH of the soil will also determine the decomposition rate. Acidic soil can cause a body to break down up to three times faster than alkaline soil.

Conclusion

Body decomposition is a complex process that begins immediately after death. A human body will take over 20 years to decompose and become soil.

The decomposition process depends on temperature, pH, moisture, oxygen levels, and burial environment. In general, a body decomposes faster in hot and moist areas like in the soil.

References

  1. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-59745-099-7_6
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/20961790.2018.1488571