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Cremation Ashes

Updated: Sep 20, 2023



Cremation ashes, also referred to as cremation remains, are the remains of a body after it has been cremated. The remains are non-aqueous and non-gaseous after complete combustion.

Ash is the powdery residue left when a combustible substance is consumed by fire. Different combustible materials produce different types of ashes. These include coal ash, fly ash, and wood ash.

Human Body Components and Ashes

What Do Cremated Ashes Consist of?

Wood Ashes Human Ashes
Wood Ashes Human Ashes

The human body is wonderfully complex and composed of a wide variety of chemical components. While water is the most abundant compound in the human body, there are also large reserves of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon - the main component of cremation diamond-, phosphorous, and calcium. The body also has the essential elements of sodium, potassium, chlorine, and magnesium. It even contains some sulfur.

Of course, water is the first thing removed by the intense heat of cremation. After it is gone the body is reduced to cremation ashes. These cremated remains have the same chemical signature that the body had before it was cremated.

Elements Contained in Human Body
Elements Contained in Human Body

The exact composition of the body varies greatly from one person to another. The food we eat, the water we drink, and where we live plays a big role in what gets stored in our fat and other tissues in the body. Bones give structure to the shape of the body and contribute significantly to weight and height. Because it is possible that someone who is obese will possess more fat than water, what is stored in the fat in a body will have a significant impact on the chemical signature of the cremated remains.

The intense heat of the cremation process consumes all carbonaceous materials in the body (those rich in carbon) as well as all organic traces. Carbonates and calcium phosphates keep the skeleton solid and durable, but most organic compounds are converted into metal oxides. Inorganic compounds may remain as they were during life or may be oxidized. The exact percentage of each element or compound within cremated remains varies from person to person. No two samples of human ashes will be precisely the same in terms of elemental composition. This is further seen while turning these ashes into diamonds that no two cremation diamonds are the same.

What Do Cremated Ashes Look Like?

Human Body is Mainly Composed of Skeleton, Tissues, and Blood
Human Body is Mainly Composed of Skeleton, Tissues, and Blood

After cremation, the cremated remains are moved to a cooling container. Large metal components such as hip joints are removed, and a magnet is passed over them to remove any smaller metallic components. The bone fragments are then reduced to a uniform pale to dark grey powder similar in appearance and texture to coarse sand.

This comparison to coarse sand is very different from what many expect human ashes to look like after cremation. Many people expect a light, flaky material similar to wood ash. This misunderstanding comes from the fact that cremated remains are primarily bone. Soft tissues are consumed in the intense heat of the cremation process.

How Much Do Cremated Ashes Weigh?

The fact that cremation ashes consist mainly of bone means that height, rather than weight, determines how much ashes a cremated body makes the average adult male resulting in about six pounds of cremated remains. This is around two pounds more than an adult female. Cremation ashes take up about 200 cubic inches of volume on average.

The remains are usually given to the family of the deceased as soon as possible after cremation. Most crematoriums take between two and ten days for the remains to be ready for collection by the family.

Cremation is usually carried out near the place of death or when the body is transferred to a crematorium and involves breaking down the cadaver in a chamber designed to withstand high temperatures. The length of time needed for this depends on a number of factors such as the time of day, type of crematorium technology, and size (height and weight) of the cadaver. On average, the entire process takes between one and a half to four hours.

Cremation Chamber
Cremation Chamber

Before cremation can begin, the crematorium technician should have obtained the consent of the closest surviving member(s) of the deceased. It is also necessary to secure a medical certificate from the coroner or the doctor stating the cause of death for a cremation to take place. This is because, obviously after the cremation, the body cannot be exhumed as can occur with a traditional ground burial.

Firstly, it is important for the cremator to remove any materials, such as a pacemaker, that would cause an explosion during cremation. A funeral service is then usually held in the chapel with family and friends in attendance. After the service, the casket is moved to the crematorium where details and identity are recorded. The casket, which is made up of flammable materials, is then placed in the crematorium chamber.

Temperatures in the chamber rise steadily to an average of 1800-2100 degrees Fahrenheit. After cremation, the remains are placed in a cooling chamber and later removed to a transfer container. Metallic residues are removed from the remains for recycling. The remains are then reduced and moved to a suitable container that is labeled for identification.

Finally, the ashes are put in an urn and taken to the family of the deceased, or collected. The family can then decide how to dispose of the ashes in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.

Differences Between Human and Animal (Pet) Cremation

Creative Urn for Pets
Creative Urn for Pets

Cremation is perhaps the most ethical and cost-effective way of remains, both human and animal, and takes place within the same range of temperature. In both cases, you will find almost the same chemical composition of ashes i.e human and pet ashes. The only difference is the length of time involved. Clearly, small animals, such as a rabbit or cats will take a shorter time to cremate compared to larger animals, such as horses.

During cremation, only one body can be cremated at a time unless there is a special arrangement to cremate family members who died together. However, crematoriums will conduct mass cremations for more than one animal.

Human beings are usually cremated in privately owned crematoriums near funeral homes. Animals are cremated in crematoriums that are owned by the local city or county organizations.

What Is an Urn and What Is Its Purpose?

A Typical Urn
A Typical Urn

Cremated remains are typically stored in an urn, a tall rounded vase, typically with a stem and base. Urns are usually ornamental and can be constructed from ceramic, metal, wood, or other materials. Many are decorated with a theme depicting the life of the deceased or their loved ones.

An urn can be purchased from the funeral home or made specifically for the deceased. Most state laws do not require the bereaved family to purchase an urn from the funeral home. If the cremated remains are to be displayed during the funeral service, most funeral homes offer rental display urns. However, prior arrangements can be made with the funeral home to get an urn before cremation.

It is important to check the dimensions of the urn before purchasing. There are different designs for different purposes. Keep in mind that the average cremated remains amount to around 200 cubic inches. Urn manufacturers list the capacity of urns both in terms of the cubic inches and the weight of the person who was cremated.

A Set of Elegant Urns
A Set of Elegant Urns

The exterior measurements are also important. If the urn needs to be sited in a columbarium niche or other specific place, it’s vital to ensure that the urn will fit the location.

Because many people store the cremated remains in an urn at home, it is important to make sure the design of the urn fits on the shelf or mantle. A biodegradable urn is usually preferred if the family intends to bury the cremation ashes in a family burial plot. Sometimes a seed is included that may grow into a tree at the burial site.

Sometimes a water-soluble urn can also be used. This floats for some time before gradually sinking representing the dignified passing on of a loved one.

How to Dispose of Cremated Ashes?

One of the benefits of cremation is that it allows loved ones the opportunity to memorialize the deceased in a unique way that reflects the person. There are many different ways to manage the disposal of ashes. In North America, disposal is fairly evenly split among burying the cremation remains, keeping them, and scattering them.

Where to Scatter (Spread) the Cremated Ashes?

Nearly half of all people who specify cremation as their last wish have also chosen where they want their ashes to be scattered. Usually, family and friends gather together at a location that held special meaning for the deceased and scatter the ashes there. Forest, mountains, rivers, or oceans are all popular choices. Most countries do not have laws restricting the scattering of ashes, unless, of course, there is a desire to scatter the ashes on someone else’s private property. The most common places include:

Ashes Floating Away
Ashes Floating Away

  • Personal garden - Scattering the ashes of a loved one in their own garden does not require the same formalities as cemeteries or family graves.

  • Overseas scattering - This involves transporting the ashes to another country for scattering. However, before engaging in this practice, it is important to know if there are laws in that country regarding the scattering of ashes.

  • Use of a Viking longboat urn – During this event the urn is placed on water to drift, then set alight. The fire consumes the urn as it drifts away. The family should check local regulations. A water-soluble urn can also be used. This floats for some time before gradually sinking, representing the dignified passing on of a loved one.

  • Float away - The remains are put in a biodegradable balloon that is filled with helium and then released.

  • Airborne - Scattering from an airplane is possible for disposing of ashes over a large area.

  • Cremation remains are even sent into space. Private companies such as Elysium provide this service.

Where to Scatter (Spread) the Cremated Ashes?


  • Casting ashes into the wind (it is important to check wind direction first).

  • Trenching ashes.

  • Ringing ashes (around a tree for example).

  • Raking ashes.

  • Green burial scattering through the use of a biodegradable urn.

Most religions have their own etiquette regarding the scattering of ashes. According to the Buddhists, the scattering of ashes is not wholly accepted though it is viewed as a charitable act. Among the Catholics, this idea is not entirely accepted whereas, among the congregation of the Church of England, scattering is done only on designated land by the bishop. In the Hindu community, they do not allow the ashes back home after cremation. Scattering should be done 14 days after cremation. Usually, the ashes are cast into a river, preferably the Ganges.

How to Bury Ashes?

Bury Ashes in Traditional Cemetery
Bury Ashes in Traditional Cemetery

  • Burial- Urn burial sites are usually relatively cheaper compared to traditional burial sites.

  • Columbarium- This is a specially-designed building that houses the urn. This gives family and friends the opportunity to visit and view the urn. Urn niches are usually rented out on a lease basis and, if not renewed, the ashes are strewn or buried.

  • At home- This is a very inexpensive way to dispose of the remains, especially when buried in the backyard or kept in an urn that is placed somewhere in the home. Knowing that the cremated remains of a loved one are always nearby can be a great comfort to those grieving.

  • Entombing a crypt in the mausoleum – A method that is common with Roman Catholics.

Creative Uses of Ashes

Columbarium in Père Lachaise Cemetery
Columbarium in Père Lachaise Cemetery

None of the common, standard uses of ashes such as enriching compost, hiding stains on paving, melting ice, or cleaning glass fireplaces are suitable for cremation ashes. Clearly, it would be unethical to use cremated remains for such purposes. However, human ashes can be used in the making of items to honor and remember the deceased, such as:

Lonité Certified Memorial Diamonds
Lonité Certified Memorial Diamonds

  • Certified diamonds(these can be made in various carat grades, sizes, colors, and cuts).

  • Inserted into an hourglass.

  • Mixed with paint and used to create a portrait of the deceased.

  • Put in the lead of a pencil with a personalized inscription.

  • Mixed with tattoo ink before application.

  • Mixed with other materials and formed into a bust in the likeness of the deceased.

  • Encasing in a jewel, such as when making a memorial piece of jewelry.

  • Put into fireworks in order to create a colorful light show.

Diamonds Made From Human Ashes

It is easier today that a person's ashes can be turned into a cremation diamond than it was many years ago. These laboratory-produced, ashes into cremation diamonds are real diamonds with the same chemical composition and physical structure as natural diamonds, while their carbon source comes from your loved one's ashes. This difference makes the diamond made from human ashes more valuable as it is part of everlasting love.

Memorial diamonds from human ashes cost much less than natural diamonds making it affordable for each person to cherish his loved one with such a unique keepsake. Such ashes to diamonds have a unique cost with Lonité.

Cremation – a Popular Choice

It is evident that cremation is a common practice that is gaining popularity around the world. It is viewed as an environmentally-friendly practice. The technology used in the cremation process has also meant lower emissions and pollution produced during cremation.

People have diverse cultures and traditions which influence how they preserve or dispose of the cremation remains. However, it is important to check local regulations before proceeding with any disposal of cremation ashes.

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