How Does Water Affect Human Body Decomposition?

After someone passes away, the process of body decomposition happens right away. While many people are aware of the major signs of decomposition like rigor mortis and skin color changes, very few understand the science behind body decomposition and what factors affect the speed at which a body decomposes. To help you understand how outside factors like water affect decomposition, we are breaking down the major facts below.

General stages of human decomposition

A corpse generally progresses through five stages of body decomposition. In order, these are fresh, bloat (autolysis), active decay (putrefaction), advanced decay, and skeletonization. You will often hear other terms for these stages like rigor mortis. The first stage where you will notice change is autolysis which typically begins just four minutes after a person dies. It is during this stage that the brain begins to break down. After the body begins to break down, internal organs shut down, skin begins to discolor and the final breakdown in decomposition is from advanced decay of the body to skeletonization.

Factors that speed up decomposition

Did you know that bodies decompose at different rates depending on a number of outside factors? From temperature, moisture, and weather to weight of deceased, cause of death, and water, the rate at which a body decomposes through the phases listed above can vary drastically. Factors like temperature, weather, and moisture can accelerate decomposition and therefore indoor deaths in a temperate environment decompose at a much steadier rate.

Other factors that speed up the decomposition process include exposure to the sun and air, contact with soil and bugs, and the introduction of water to the body. The most important thing to note is that the progression of decomposition varies greatly depending on the environment in which the body is located when decomposition begins.

How water changes typical decomposition

Exposure to moisture and water can greatly affect the speed at which a body decomposes and is known to accelerate the process. If, however, a body is submerged in water, it may slow down the process significantly. The depth of water, temperature, currents, and ecosystem surrounding the body are all different factors that affect the rate of decomposition.

Since decomposition in a wet environment differs from that in other settings, both in the changes that occur and the rate at which they occur, it is essential that the forensic pathologist or medicolegal death investigator recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of immersed and submerged remains. According to NIH, the typical decomposition changes proceed more slowly in the water, primarily due to cooler temperatures and the anaerobic environment. However, once a body is removed from the water, putrefaction will likely be accelerated.

When to get help from professional biohazard cleanup companies

While it’s helpful to understand the process of decomposition and the factors that affect the rate at which a body decomposes, it’s also important to know what happens to the space that has been contaminated. When a dead body is left in a space for a long period of time, flies and maggots may come and eat the bio and regurgitate it throughout the property starting with windows and other light-colored areas.

Professional biohazard cleaning companies know that these areas need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected in order to ensure the space is safe again. At Xtreme Cleaners our technicians are highly trained and certified in biohazard recovery. If you or someone you know needs help cleaning up after someone has passed away in Louisiana, give us a call at 800-524-9591.