Quicklime and Decomposition

Pig buried with quicklime

There is a long-held belief that applying quicklime to a buried body will accelerate decomposition. Maybe it is the use of quicklime or slack lime in outhouses to control odor but it does not cause rapid decomposition as reported in many sources.  This fact has been documented by scientific research since the 1930’s at least.

The preservation of tissue is the result of dehydration which does not allow for bacterial growth normally seen in decomposition.  The more lime used, the better the preservation. When mixed with water and air (as in a shallow grave) can cause a shrinkage of tissue and the lime may even have a solvent effect but connective tissue. bone, hair, etc would not be damaged much.

I’m not suggesting that bodies buried in quicklime will look pristine but they will not rapidly deteriorate as some criminals believe.  Lime does not deter animal scavenging either. I have done studies on bodies buried in quicklime and have seen rodent burrowing within a few months of burial.

If your novel contains a burial with quicklime you should be aware of its preservation effects. If you want to use the misinformation to your advantage then have your killer use it to destroy evidence. Then when they discover that it helped to preserve the body maybe they have to take more drastic steps to thwart the police.

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About forensics4fiction

Hi there. Thank you for visiting my BLOG for crime writers. I hope you will find it interesting. I would love to hear your questions and thoughts regarding forensics and criminal investigations. I hope that the information here will help answer your questions or ignite your imagination. I am a retired senior criminalist with 15 years of forensic experience. I have served as the president of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, Rocky Mountain Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, and the Rocky Mountain Division of the International Association for Identification. I am triple board certified in forensic related fields and one of only 40 board-certified bloodstain pattern analysts and 80 board-certified footwear examiners worldwide In addition to writing over 60 scientific papers, I have worked as the editor of the Journal of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, been interviewed by and consulted for television, books, magazines, and newspaper articles including documentaries on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

Posted on September 30, 2011, in The Autopsy, The Crime Scene and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. When mixed with water and air, does quicklime give off any odor or scent?

  2. I’ve only experienced quicklime in soil and outhouses and I’ve never experienced a noticeable odor.

  3. maureen kilroy

    From what you describe (very informative by the way. Thanks), it sounds as if a corpse encased in quicklime would be hard to identify if it was buried in a shallow grave? Am I understanding you correctly? If equipment being used to check out soil samples, for example, for the presence of human remains was being used, would the quick lime interfere with the results of the testing?

  4. No. Quicklime acts as a preservative. Human remains are pretty easy to identify if they are intact (skeletal elements) or through DNA (tooth pulp). Quicklime wouldn’t interfere with either.


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