What Is a Mortuary?

A mortuary is a temperature-controlled facility where bodies are temporarily stored. It is often located in hospitals and medical centers.

Many people use the term “mortuary” as a synonym for funeral home. The reality is that mortuaries are more bare-bones operations with a heavier focus on mortuary science than on funeral services.

Preparation of the Body

One of the first steps in body preparation involves washing and disinfecting the remains, removing any clothing and making sure the head and hands are properly positioned. Morticians also replace any bodily fluids and add fillers to create a more lifelike appearance.

They may also embalm the body, a process that sanitizes and temporarily preserves the remains, so family members can have a private or open casket viewing, or for burial. Embalming slows the natural decomposition of the body, inhibits bacteria growth and helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

If requested, they can perform an autopsy or post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death, gather forensic evidence, or study specific medical conditions. Once these procedures are completed, the body is released to the funeral home for final preparation and services. This is usually the most challenging part of the process for many families, and it’s essential that a mortuary has experienced staff who are sensitive to the needs of grieving families.


In many cases, loved ones will pay their last respects in the mortuary, so it’s important that the body is correctly identified. This typically involves a series of checks and documentation and is done under the supervision of the mortuary staff.

This process is not as dramatic as it is portrayed on procedural TV shows or action movies, where family members are led into a stark morgue and a sheet is dramatically whipped off or a bag is hastily unzipped. In reality, the process is very calm and quiet, and the identifying person usually nods stoically or passes out of shock.

When visual identification is not possible, additional means of identification are instituted [2]. For example, fingerprints are obtained and compared to the fingerprints in CMS. The resulting report is displayed in the Identification page of CMS. The body is then signed out of the mortuary and transferred to the funeral home or hospital. The mortuary book is then updated to reflect this transfer.


Mortuaries store bodies in a cool temperature, which slows the process of decomposition. A few places, like forensic institutes keep their coolers below freezing to decrease the speed of decomposition even more.

A mortuary cooler consists of shelves that can be stacked to accommodate multiple bodies. Each shelf is separated with a barrier to prevent one body from touching another, so morticians can easily slide each body onto and off the shelves. They also use body trays or boards that allow the deceased to lie in a respectful position.

These shelves and trays are usually made of stainless steel or aluminum. They are designed with direct cooling, which is more reliable than air cooling. Other names for these cabinets include dead body refrigerated storage cabinet, deal body refrigerator and mortuary cold room. They can also be supplied with a variety of cooling systems: horizontal, centrifugal or silent. These refrigerators must be properly ventilated to prevent the buildup of condensation in the enclosures.


During the grieving process, bereaved families often have to deal with logistics. One of these critical services is mortuary transport, which ensures that the body of a loved one arrives at its final destination safely and dignifiedly.

This service is typically performed by a funeral home or a specialized mortuary transport company. The latter is familiar with the shipping window and after-hours release processes, as well as international and domestic flight regulations. They also liaise with the recipient funeral home to ensure the smoothest possible transportation process.

When it comes to transporting a deceased body across state lines, the best choice is to opt for air travel. This option is usually cheaper than arranging for ground transportation, which can cost up to $1 per loaded mile. The price will vary depending on the distance and the choice of the funeral home. The company you choose for mortuary transport should be able to provide you with these costs upfront.

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