Unveiling Natural Process of a Decomposing Body

Sep 21, 2023

At SCU Services, we strive to provide our readers with valuable insights into all aspects of biohazard cleanup. 

Today, we dive into the intriguing subject of putrefaction—the natural process by which a deceased organism breaks down. Although the topic may seem morbid (which it is), understanding the stages and factors involved in a decomposing body is essential to ensure proper and effective cleanup. 

The Stages of Putrefaction

These stages can be categorized into five broad phases: fresh, bloated, active decay, post-decay/advanced decay, and skeletal/dry remains. Let’s explore each stage in more detail:

SCU Services image Unveiling Natural Process of a Decomposing Body

  1. Fresh Stage: Immediately after death, the body enters the fresh stage, which typically lasts from a few minutes to several days. During this phase, the body appears intact, as the internal organs begin to shut down. However, external signs such as livor mortis (discoloration due to blood pooling) and rigor mortis (stiffening of muscles) become apparent. External factors like temperature, humidity, and the presence of insects can affect the speed of decomposition during this stage.
  2. Bloated Stage: As the body progresses to the bloated stage, various microbial activities start breaking down the tissues. Anaerobic bacteria release gasses, primarily methane and hydrogen sulfide, causing the body to bloat. This phase typically occurs within 4-10 days after death and is marked by visible swelling and discoloration of the body.
  3. Active Decay Stage: The decay stage witnesses an accelerated breakdown of tissues due to the activities of bacteria, fungi, and insects. As the gasses continue to accumulate, the body’s skin may rupture, releasing fluids and emitting a strong odor, aka. “The smell of death.” This phase can last several weeks and is characterized by advanced decomposition, loss of body mass, and the emergence of bow flies as they feed on the dead body.
  4. Post-Decay Stage/Advanced Decay: During the post-decay stage, the rate of decomposition slows down significantly. The remains begin to dry out as the majority of soft tissues have already decomposed. A waxy substance called adipocere may form in some cases, preserving parts of the body. At this point, the remains are mainly composed of bones, hair, and other resistant tissues.
  5. Skeletal Stage/Dry Remains: The final stage of decomposition is the skeletal stage, where only dry bones and hair remain. This process can take months to years, depending on environmental conditions. Factors such as temperature, humidity, and the presence of scavengers influence the timeline of this stage.

Factors Affecting Decomposition

Several factors impact the rate and progression of decomposition and makes the value of hiring a clean up company a necessity. Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Temperature: Higher temperatures generally accelerate decomposition, while lower temperatures slow it down. Extreme heat can expedite decay and increase odor. 
  • Humidity: High humidity levels can contribute to faster decomposition, as they provide a conducive environment for bacterial and fungal growth. 
  • Access to Oxygen: Decomposition can be slower in environments with limited oxygen, such as in submerged or buried bodies. 
  • Insect Activity: Insects play a significant role in the decomposition process. Oftentimes, we can get an idea of how long a body has been decaying based on the life cycles of the flies around it.


Putrefaction is more common than people think, especially for the elderly who have no families in the area. Oftentimes, neighbors will know there are signs of a decomposing body from neglect of one’s personal property, flies in the windows or lobby (apartment buildings), and/or the smell of death permeating the space.

At SCU Services, these are some of our biggest jobs due to the various complexities of the job. Not only are you cleaning all biohazards, you are dealing with personal property damage from the biohazard and gravity, the flies, all hard surfaces, odor elimination, and restoration of one’s properties. It is vital that we recommend and make aware to the customer how homeowners insurance covers the cost of the damages. Oftentimes, we are able to save the customer 5 figures depending on the damages.

We believe that NO one should clean up a loved one! If you come across or know someone that needs our services. Call us today and we will inform, clean, and give you a peace of mind knowing the job will be done professionally.