What is cremation and how does cremation work?
Cremation is the process of exposing a deceased body to intense heat in order to transform the bone and body tissue into ashes (cremated remains).
The cremation process is conducted at a crematorium, inside a purpose-built ‘oven’ called a cremation chamber.
Once the cremation process has been completed, which typically takes between 2-3 hours, the remaining bone fragments are placed inside a cremulator to be ground down into ashes, which resemble sand.
The remains are then placed inside an urn and given to the family or funeral director to complete the process.
The Cremation Process Video
The whole service needs to stick to a strict time slot, this is usually 45 minutes. An additional service can be held before or after for family and friends. The Family can view the cremation if requested. This can be religious or non-religious, it depends on the family’s wishes
A Step-by-Step of the Cremation Process
- Attendees arrive and lay memorials at a given place
- The coffin arrives, is lifted into the crematorium, and rested upon the Catafalque
- Service starts
- The coffin is hidden behind a curtain (the committal)
- Guests are escorted out of the venue
- The coffin is cremated in the cremation chamber
- Within 2 hours the cremation is complete
- Remains are cooled, raked, and ground down into a sand-like texture
- Remains are stored ready for collection by the family
How Long After Death is a Cremation?
A typical funeral, in the UK, is held between 2-3 weeks after death. For more information, please read How Long After Death is a Funeral Cremation guide.
How is the Body Prepared for Cremation?
If the body is to be viewed before cremation, the body needs to be embalmed. This requires bodily fluids being removed and replaced with a chemical solution that preserves the body for longer.
If the body is to be placed straight into a coffin and not be seen, then it will be stored into a refrigeration unit.
Funeral directors can dress the deceased in any clothes that the family wish along with any items that are approved for cremation.
If a direct cremation is chosen then the body will typically be cremated in whatever clothes the person died in.
Pacemakers and all other medical devices must be removed from the body before the cremation process begins, because they can be hazardous when exposed to intense heat. Any sentimental keepsakes, such as jewellery, will be destroyed during the cremation process, so these should be removed, too
Does the Body Need to be Embalmed Before Cremation?
Embalming is not a requirement for the cremation process and is only advisable if there will be a public viewing for friends and relatives to say their final goodbyes. Embalming might also be necessary if the body has to be transported by rail or air, or because of the length of time between the death and cremation process is too long to keep the body in a suitable condition.
Is a Coffin Necessary for Cremation?
No, a coffin isn’t 100% necessary for cremation. For cremations, coffins are mainly used to provide a dignified way to move the body. The only requirement for cremation is that the body is placed in a rigid, combustible and enclosed container. Cardboard coffins have become more popular due to the money-saving aspect.
What Happens on the Day of the Cremation?
On the day of the cremation, the coffin is brought into the chapel followed by the mourners. The coffin is then placed on a raised and decorated platform before a religious or secular service is held. This is followed by the removal of the coffin, after which the mourners leave the chapel.
The coffin is then taken into the committal room, where the nameplate is matched with the cremation order to ensure the body is correctly identified. The coffin is labelled with the appropriate card which provides all the necessary information for the cremation. The final step is for the coffin to be placed inside the cremation chamber where it will be exposed to temperatures of 800°C-1000°C.
Are Bodies Cremated Straight After Service?
Yes. In most cases the body is cremated as soon as the service has finished. The only exception to this would be if the funeral service is late in the day or if there is some problem with the crematoriums facilities.
How Long After the Ceremony is the Body Cremated?
The body is usually cremated within a couple of hours, but the crematorium can take upto 24 hours to start the cremation process.
What Happens to the Coffin During Cremation?
Yes, the coffin is cremated along with the body and everything inside.
The container the deceased is laid in before it’s placed into the chamber is cremated along with the body. Once the coffin enters the crematorium, it is legally not allowed to be opened.
Do you Have Clothes on When Cremated?
Yes. You can either be cremated in what you died in (cheapest option) or a funeral director will dress the deceased in an outfit you request
Can Relatives Witness the Cremation Process?
Yes, usually up to two relatives can witness the cremation process if they wish to.
What Happens to Jewellery During the Cremation Process?
Metal jewellery and the nails which hold the coffin together are non-combustible and therefore will not be broken down during the cremation process. After the body has been reduced to its basic elements, a magnet is used to separate the metal parts which are buried on the crematorium’s grounds.
Since the jewellery is non-salvageable and won’t form part of the ashes, it’s advisable to separate it from the deceased before the cremation.
How long does it take to cremate a body?
It takes 2 hours to cremate a body and an extra 1 -2 hours for the remains to cool down ready to be ground up and sealed into an urn.
What Container is used for remains
The crematorium will place the remains inside a plastic container for collection (see image below)
If a family has chosen an urn for the ashes, then the funeral director will place the remains inside this urn for the family to collect.
What Happens to the Remains After the Cremation?
After the cremation, the ashes are removed from the cremation chamber and placed on a cooling tray. Any metal pieces are then removed and the remaining ashes are reduced to fine white-grey ash with the texture of coarse sand – this is bone ash – before being placed into a temporary urn.
Do I Have to by an Urn for the Cremation?
The container you’ll receive the ashes in will be very basic, so you may decide to purchase one if you wish to display the ashes in your home or a biodegradable urn if you wish to commit the ashes back to the earth. These decisions can be made after the cremation though when you have time to decide. If you wish to purchase an urn, then use our calculator to determine what size urn you will need
What Will I Get After the Cremation?
Unless you’ve already made another agreement, the ashes will be given to you in a basic container. On average, men’s ashes weigh 3.5kg and women’s ashes weigh 2.5kg.
How Can I Store the Ashes After the Cremation?
There are many different ways of storing ashes.
- You can place the urn permanently within a columbarium – a room or structure located within a cemetery or chapel where niches are provided to store urns containing ashes.
- You can bury the ashes in a cremation or burial plot, either on their own or on the same plot as another family member. (You can also bury the ashes on your private land)
- You can keep an urn on display in your home.
- You can keep the remains within a memorial in the shape of a memorial rock, grave marker or cremation bench with an integrated repository inside a cemetery.
We have a more detailed article that lists your options for the ashes.
Can the Ashes be Scattered After the Cremation?
Yes, ashes can be scattered on land, at sea or in the air following the cremation. As long as you have the owner’s permission, you can scatter remains on any piece of private land. We have a few scattering ashes ceremony ideas if you could do with some inspiration to make the day memorable.
If you want to scatter the ashes on public land, such as in a park or a favourite location of the deceased, you’ll need to seek permission from the local government before doing so.
Please read our scattering ashes guide for more information.
What Are my Other Options After Taking Home the Ashes?
Remains can be converted into glass by combining a small part of the ashes with molten glass. Similarly, ashes or hair can also be used to create memorial diamonds which are developed within a laboratory.
Another option is to divide the ashes, keep a small portion of the ashes as they are, but store them within a locket which forms a piece of cremation jewellery. We have loads of ideas to help you decide what to do with ashes after cremation
If you want to bury or store the ashes in a permanent location, you might want to hold an interred ashes ceremony, where you commit the ashes to their final resting place, be that an urn, a burial spot or inside a vault.
What Happens if I Don’t Want to Take the Ashes After the Cremation?
If you don’t take the ashes and decide to leave them at the crematorium, the ashes will be scattered over the gardens of remembrance – a special area set aside for the disposal of cremation ashes. Although some crematoriums offer to mark spots with rose bushes or plaques, some do not. So make sure you discuss this first before you make your decision. You will have 6 weeks after the cremation to collect the remains before they are scattered.
How Long Does it Take to Get the Ashes Back After Cremation?
Ashes are usually passed on to the funeral director after the cremation for collection. If you have not employed the services of a funeral director, you’ll usually have up to 6 weeks to collect the ashes before being charged.
If you have left the crematorium no instructions of what to do with the ashes, they will be scattered within the gardens of remembrance. Before they’re scattered, the person on the documentation will receive written notice 14 days.
Who Can Collect the Ashes After a Cremation?
Only the funeral director or a named individual, who will be required to bring identification, can collect the ashes after the cremation. For more in-depth information, please read our guide that will explain exactly who gets the ashes after cremation and who legally has a right to them.
How long do funeral directors keep ashes for in the UK?
Under published guidelines, funeral directors are obliged to keep ashes for at least 5 years before deciding themselves what to do with them. Every effort must be made to contact the next of kin before scattering the ashes at a memorial garden. Typically funeral director will hold onto the ashes for as long as you need to decide upon a final resting place, whether that be interred into an urn or scattered at a location of remembrance or personal meaning.
Cremation Frequently Asked Questions
On average, the cremation process takes between 2 and 2 and a half hours. For a detailed breakdown, read our guide on How Long Does a Cremation Service Take.
The time the cremation takes largely depends on the operating temperature of the cremation chamber and the makeup of the deceased body (height, bone density, weight can all play a part)
Teeth can survive the cremation process but are severely weaken and like larger bones in the body they will be ground down when the remains are placed inside the cremulator
No, only a small number of cremation service providers have their own crematoriums.
Cremation is neither a religious nor a non-religious process – some religions encourage it and others disapprove of it. You can choose to have a religious service as part of the cremation process, but if you’re not religious, you can opt for a secular service or no service at all – this is called a direct cremation.
Yes, cremation chambers are generally only large enough to cater for one coffin and law states that bodies can only be cremated one at a time.
Humans and animals alike can be cremated in the same manner. For more information please see our Pet Cremation guide.
Typically no. Due to the increasing cost of land, burials tend to be more expensive. To find out more, read our guide to the cost of cremation.
Does the body explode?
We have heard this a few times and the answer is no. Unless a pacemaker has made its way into the cremation chamber, then the body will not explode under the heat.
Does the body sit up during cremation?
Yes, this can happen. Due to the heat and the muscle tissue, the body can move as the body is broken down, although this does happen inside the coffin, so it won’t be visible.
Do the remains get mixed up
No. As you can see from the video above, names are checked at every stage of the process and only 1 bdy at a time enters the chamber.
Glossary of terms
Committal – this is when the coffin is taken behind a curtain, ready for cremation. It is committed to the process
Garden of Remembrance – where ashes are strewn if the family does not want the remains to be taken home
Strewn – another word for spreading the ashes
Interr – when the ashes are kept in a permanent place
Chamber – where the coffin and body is cremated
Catafalque – the raised platform where the coffin is laid during a cremation service