How Long Does It Take a Body to Decompose?

While we all know that human decomposition is a natural stage after someone dies, most people don’t know just how long the process takes, or what happens during it. While bodies decompose at different rates depending on several factors including temperature, cause of death, moisture, weather, weight of the deceased, and more, the decomposition process is the same for everyone. 


What happens first?


The first stage of decomposition, autolysis, begins just four minutes after a person dies. According to Business Insider, your brain is one of the first parts of your body to break down and it does so just a few minutes after death. Another process that happens during this phase is rigor mortis, which happens about three hours postmortem. Rigor mortis causes muscle stiffening and makes a body harden while the internal organs are beginning to break down. Bodies that are exposed to wildlife or warm environments decay at a much quicker rate than those that are in cool spaces.


The breakdown of internal organs


When blood and oxygen stop pumping through a body, all internal organs begin shutting down and decomposing. This typically happens within the first 72 hours after someone dies after rigor mortis. As organs are decomposing, they emit pungent odors which can spread quickly throughout a room and can be incredibly unpleasant. The process of your body producing these odors is called putrefaction and can linger for quite some time after a body has been removed.


Skin color changes


Typically, between three to five days postmortem, as organs are continuing their decomposition process, the skin begins to turn different colors. First skin turns green and then a few days later it turns red as blood begins to decompose. The skin discoloration is due to bacteria and gases in the body and can take much longer if the body is kept in a cold and dark environment like at a funeral home.



The final process


With over 200 bones, a few trillion microbes, and as many as 37 trillion cells, the process of decomposition can take a long time to fully happen. With deteriorating blood cells and collapsing tissues, this process is not a pretty one and should ideally happen in a controlled environment. Regardless of if the passing of an individual is due to natural causes, suicide, disease, or accident, it’s important you work with professionals who are well-versed on the ins and outs of handling these sensitive cleanup situations. Because of the high exposure risk to bloodborne pathogens, unattended death cleanup is a specialty service that requires blood cleanup professionals with proper training, equipment, certification, and licensing.


While it’s helpful to understand the process of decomposition, 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, blow flies and maggots may come and eat the bio and regurgitate it throughout the property starting with windows and other light colored areas. Professional cleaners know that these areas need to be cleaned and disinfected also for the property to be properly cleaned. 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.