Compendium of Horror, Fear, and the Grotesque

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Adipocere is a by-product of the natural process of decomposition. It is often a soap-like, waxy, or cheesy substance resulting from fat and soft tissues of dead people or animals. Adipocere may give off a vile pungent odor, may be sweet-smelling, or may have no odor at all, depending on its stage of decomposition. Its color can vary from white to gray, or brown to black. It might be a liquefied dripping slime, a pliable mass, or a hard enough to resemble paraffin.

It is estimated that 80% of the bodies interred in the US and Canada over the last century have not decomposed into skeletal remains. Instead, because of moist airless conditions and sometimes due to the use of formaldehyde in embalming, many of these corpses have become blobs of adipocere.

The specific stages of the process include:

  • Algor Mortis
  • Livor Mortis
  • Rigor Mortis
  • Putrefaction
  • Mummification or Adipocere Formation

See "Body Changes: What is Grave Wax?"