Chemistry - Dissolving Organic Tissues

Solution 1:

I would say that acids are better.

Why? Bases and acids dissolve flesh pretty easily (I'm thinking of $\ce{NaOH}$ and $\ce{HCl}$ here, weaker acids/bases -- not so much). Most of our body is made up of proteins, which are overall pretty much neutral (generally). Both acids and bases can dissolve protein.

On the other hand, there is one major component of our body which is easier to dissolve with acid. Bones. The major component of bone is $\ce{CaCO3}$. The reaction $\ce{2HCl +CaCO3 -> H2O + CO2 ^ + CaCl2}$ is much more efficient/faster than $\ce{2NaOH + CaCO3 -> Na2CO3 + Ca(OH)2}$. Why is this? Well, for one, in the acid reaction, a gas is being released. This speeds up the reaction, by Le Ch√Ętelier's principle.

Apparently, NaOH is not able to dissolve bone completely, you are left with a fragile shell. Either way, it will be much slower than $\ce{HCl}$ while dissolving bone.

Here's an interesting article (no claims on validity) of why lime shouldn't be used to dissolve a corpse.

While (as far as I can tell) acids may be the better way to dissolve a body, I feel that filmmakers use acids because the term is known to most of the general public (unlike "bases", which isn't)

Solution 2:

  1. Chop the body into smaller pieces, using a sturdy butcher axe.
  2. Use a pressurized stainless steel autoclave (preferable with stirrer) or comparable professional kitchen equipment, suspend the pieces in concentrated $\ce{NaOH}$ and apply heat!
  3. Cool down, release pressure and check. Saponification of body fats releases fatty acids that might form protective films and thus prevent further rapid decomposition of the "biological material". If necessary, stir and repeat until the meat is converted to a sludge.
  4. Dispose the sludge, wash the bones, crush them to smaller pieces (= larger surface) and dissolve them in conc. $\ce{H2SO4}$.
  5. Bring something to read - just in case you have to spend some 30+ years in a locked room - a book on Adolph Luetgert would be an obvious choice :D

Solution 3:

Hot concentrated aqueous lye will dissolve tissue, aided by the process making soap. Bone is about 50 wt-% hydroxylapatite, calcium phosphate, $\ce{Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2}$. That is a problem. Calcine, then make
Mythbusters (Episode 208) demonstrated that acid as such is not effective for dissolving bulk flesh. "Piranha solution" (concentrated hydrogen peroxide in concentrated sulfuric acid) eats organics, oh yes indeed, and can explode while doing it; while making it, too.