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How The Cremation Process Works Step-By-Step

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Cremation is a process that has been used for centuries to lay loved ones to rest in many cultures and religions. It provides an alternative to traditional burials while providing a meaningful way to honor the life of someone who has passed away. Although it is becoming increasingly popular, many people don’t know how cremation works or what the process itself entails.

This article will provide a comprehensive step-by-step guide to understanding how the cremation process works and answer all your questions about what happens during this important process, from the body’s preparation to the actual cremation and the aftermath of the remains. We’ll also discuss the related costs and legal considerations that may come into play.

If you are considering cremation for yourself or a loved one, read through this article carefully and consider all the information presented here. With this knowledge, you can make an informed decision about whether or not cremation is right for you or your loved one’s final arrangements.

History of Cremation

Cremation is a process that has been around for centuries and has had a variety of meanings throughout history. In ancient cultures, it was believed to be utilized as a part of religious ceremonies and rites.

The earliest evidence of the first practices of cremation dates as far back as ancient Greece, Rome, and India. Although there is evidence that Native American tribes were some of the first to cremate their deceased in the U.S., it didn’t become widely recognized until 1876, when the first crematory was established in Pennsylvania.

With the concern of water contamination of decomposing bodies buried within local cemeteries, cremations became an alternative to burial as it was believed to be a more sanitary and practical method of disposing of human remains. Regardless of the reasons behind its use, cremation has remained an important part of many cultures’ death rituals throughout time.

Fast forward to more modern times, and cremation is still a widely used alternative to a traditional burial to pay tribute to deceased loved ones. According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) and its cremation vs burial statistics, data shows that cremation services are projected to exceed burials by 50% by 2035.

Cremation can be seen as honoring a loved one’s life and giving them an appropriate send-off. It can also be a cost-effective alternative to a traditional burial, saving a family money on funeral costs and giving them more control over how their loved one’s remains are handled after being cremated.

For those unfamiliar with the process, cremation requires special methods and equipment to dispose of human remains properly. This guide will provide a step-by-step overview of what takes place during cremation so that you can better understand this age-old practice.

The Entire Cremation Process: Step-By-Step

The cremation process can be a difficult and emotional time for those involved. Understanding each step of how the entire cremation process works can provide peace of mind to the loved ones and ensure that the deceased is appropriately cared for and handled with respect throughout the process.

cremation process steps

Step One: Body Identification

Before the cremation process can even begin, the deceased’s body must be identified. The method of identifying a body may vary depending on factors such as state-specific regulations or procedures set forth by the crematory. However, identification of the deceased will likely be made at the hospital, funeral home, or crematory by a family member or an authorized individual if no family member is present.

Upon identification of the deceased’s body and arrival at the crematory, a metal identification tag will be assigned to the body. The cremation tag is a small metal disc that contains an identification number assigned to the individual to be cremated. The id tag will also often include the deceased’s name, date of birth, and, in many cases, the crematory’s name.

The metal id tag is a vital part of the process, as it will remain with the deceased throughout the cremation. The number on the id tag will correspond with all paperwork and ensure that each individual’s body is handled correctly and carefully. It also helps to ensure no mix-ups occur between bodies during or after cremation.

When cremation has been completed, the metal id tag will be placed with the final remains, often located inside the cremation urn, along with a receipt of human remains or certificate of cremation.

Step Two: Authorization to Cremate

Before cremation can occur, the crematory must receive the proper authorization and permits to proceed. This includes written permission from the deceased’s next of kin or legal representative. The funeral home will assist in explaining and completing the required paperwork.

Once all paperwork has been completed, the funeral home will arrange to transport the body to the crematory, and a date for the cremation will be set. Once the cremation facility has received all required paperwork and the body, they can proceed with the cremation.

If any of these steps are not completed, or there are any discrepancies between the paperwork and the body present, this could delay or even prevent a successful cremation.

Step Three: Arrival and Body Preparation

When the body has arrived at the crematory, it must go through preparation. Generally, the body will have already been bathed, cleaned, and dressed when if it has been transported from the funeral home, especially if there was a prior memorial service with viewing. However, most crematories will have a prep area if the body is not prepared at the funeral home.

Preparation will generally involve the removal of any mechanical prosthetics or medical devices with batteries, such as a pacemaker and defibrillators, as they can explode during cremation. In addition, surgical implants containing silicone, such as breast implants, must also be removed as they can adhere to the cremated remains. Metal plates, rods, or staples are typically left in place as they can be magnetically separated from the remains at the end of the cremation.

If the body was initially dressed upon arrival at the crematory, it is generally not removed unless otherwise requested by the family. However, all jewelry or other personal items of value would be removed and returned to the family. The body may also be refrigerated at a temperature that will slow the natural decomposition process until the day of cremation.

When it is time for the body to be cremated, the crematory will place the deceased in a coffin-like cremation casket or container suitable for cremation. The casket or cremation container will be made from combustible material such as a simple cardboard box, hardwood, or an eco-friendly option and will contain no metal parts.

Once the deceased has been placed in the wooden casket or container, it is securely sealed to ensure the safety of all involved with the cremation process.

Step Four: Cremation Chamber

On the day the body is to be cremated, the family is allowed to be present at the crematory to witness and even partake in the cremation process to say their final goodbyes. While all cremation facilities may be set up differently, most will have a separate viewing room where the family can witness the entire process if they choose to be present.

The cremation process will begin by heating a specially designed furnace called a cremation chamber or retort. The temperature required to cremate a human body must be between 1,200 and 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (648 to 1093 degrees Celsius), utilizing natural gas, propane, or diesel fuel to heat the cremation chamber to its required temperature.

When the cremation chamber has reached its required temperature, the casket containing the body will be placed on a lift with rollers where it will slide and enter through the door of the cremation chamber or retort. Modern cremation chambers and furnaces are typically controlled by computers, where the staff will monitor the entire process and make any adjustments if needed.

During the cremation process, the body will be exposed to intense heat and flames, breaking down the body’s organic matter and leaving only ash and small pieces of bone fragments. Depending on the individual’s body size in combination with the extreme heat and flames, the overall cremation process of a human body from start to finish takes 2-3 hours.

Step Five: Finalizing the Remains

After the body has been reduced to ash and bone fragments, the remains undergo a cooling period before the crematory operator uses a magnetic device over the remains to remove any metal objects from any medical devices, artificial joints, or dental fillings. The remains are then placed into a cremulator that grinds the ashes and bone fragments into a fine powder resulting in the final human ashes.

The crematory will then place the ashes in a temporary container, rigid cardboard container, or an urn for safekeeping, which would then be turned over to the family along with any final paperwork.

Step Six: Returning of Ashes

The final step of the cremation process is for the family to receive their loved one’s ashes. The timeline for that will vary depending on the crematory’s procedures. Generally, a family can expect the ashes to be ready for pickup within a few days to a week after the cremation.

When working with the crematory or funeral director, we would advise asking about their timeline for how long it will generally take to receive the ashes. If you need the ashes back quickly, some crematories may offer an expedited service for an extra fee.

Types of Cremations and Services

Over the last two decades, the choice to be cremated after death has become increasingly popular. As the cost of traditional burials rises, more people are turning to cremation as a less expensive option.

When we think about cremation, the first thing that generally comes to mind is the traditional flame-based option, where the body is placed into an industrial furnace, with the final result being that the body is turned into ashes. While there is more to the process, most people’s general thoughts about how cremations work are correct.

However, suppose you are considering having a loved one or body cremated or pre-planning for yourself. In that case, you should know that many funeral homes offer different types of cremation services. Plus, not all options include the use of fire. Here we will break down some of the more popular cremation services widely available today.

Direct Cremation Service

The most basic form of cremation is called direct cremation. With this service, a deceased’s body is transported directly to the crematorium, where the cremation process takes place without any memorial or funeral services.

Families often choose this option to hold their private remembrances at home rather than having a public funeral or memorial service. The advantage of direct cremation is that it can be completed quickly and inexpensively. However, some may find it lacks a meaningful ritual or ceremony honoring a loved one’s life.

Once the process is complete, the ashes are placed in an urn or other container and given to family members. Direct cremations in the U.S. has become increasingly popular as it is a much more affordable end-of-life option for those who do not wish to have a formal funeral service for their deceased loved one.

Cremation with Memorial Service

Memorial cremation is a type of cremation that generally includes a service held after the cremation. For example, the body is cremated, and the remains are returned to the family, who would then choose to have a memorial service to honor the deceased.

The memorial service allows for closure for those who have lost someone dear to them and helps them feel connected with their beloved friend or relative even after they have passed away.

It also provides a unique way for those who cannot attend the funeral to pay their respects from afar if desired. Overall, memorial cremations provide bereaved families comfort and peace, knowing their loved one’s memory will live on in spirit.

Casketed Funeral with Viewing and Cremation

This type of cremation includes a traditional funeral service with a viewing of the deceased person followed by a cremation service. Generally, the deceased is embalmed and placed in a rental casket provided by the funeral home for viewing of the body.

The viewing can allow families to grieve their loss in an environment that pays tribute to their loved one’s life story and accomplishments.

After the viewing, the deceased person will be transported to the crematory, where the body will be prepared for cremation.

Water Cremation

Water cremation, known by its scientific name as “Aqua Alkaline Hydrolysis Cremation,” is a modern alternative to traditional flame-based cremation.

In this type of cremation, the body is placed in a large stainless steel vessel containing a mix of water and an alkaline solution (potassium hydroxide) and heated to roughly 300-350 degrees Fahrenheit. During this process, the liquid is circulated, accelerating and dissolving the body into its original elements, leaving only bone fragments that will be ground down to a fine powder and placed in an urn.

The remaining liquid material is then safely disposed of at an approved facility. Water cremation offers those wishing to cremate their loved ones an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional cremation methods.

It eliminates the need to burn fossil fuels and any air pollution that could result from combustion. Additionally, it requires significantly less energy than traditional cremation methods and produces no harmful by-products or emissions.

Environmental Impacts of Flame-Based Cremations

If you have ever wondered what the environmental impacts are in the cremation process, they are responsible for carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants. So, it’s worthwhile to look at the environmental impact of cremation so that we can make informed decisions.

The first thing to consider is the amount of energy used in the cremation process. Crematories usually use gas or electricity to heat their furnaces to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit to incinerate the body. This uses large amounts of energy and contributes to air pollution if the crematory lacks proper emission-control devices.

Furthermore, when a body is cremated, it releases mercury vapors from dental fillings and other toxins like nitrogen oxide, hydrogen chloride, and particulate matter. These contaminants pollute our air and water resources if an appropriate emission control system does not adequately filter them. Potential groundwater contamination is due to improper ash disposal from cremated bodies and animal remains.

Ultimately, being mindful of the environmental impacts associated with cremation can ensure that our decisions don’t contribute to further pollution or harm the environment in any way. In addition, green cremation or burial options, such as biodegradable urns or caskets, can help reduce our carbon footprint.

Handling of the Cremation Remains

Depending on the wishes of the deceased or the family, cremated remains may be buried, placed in a columbarium niche, kept by the family, or scattered in a special, meaningful place of the deceased.

If the cremated remains are to be buried, they should follow all applicable local laws and regulations when burying cremated remains. In addition, it is important to ensure that the burial site is appropriately marked and that the location is noted to ensure that the remains can be located in the future.

If a family wishes to keep the remains, they should be placed in an appropriate urn and stored securely. The family should also consider having a professional engrave the urn with the name, birth and death dates, and any other identifying information about the deceased.

If scattering the remains, you should also check with the local authorities to ensure you are not violating local laws. It is also important to ensure they are not scattering the remains on private property without permission.

Memorialization Options and Cremation Urns

Several options can be considered when it comes to memorialization after the cremation. One of the most popular choices is purchasing an urn that honors the deceased and tangibly remembers them. The decision of which type of urn to get depends on personal taste, budget, and size requirements.

When selecting an urn for cremated remains, many considerations must be remembered. Factors like material, shape, and size all play a role in narrowing down the selection.

It’s important to measure the space available for displaying the urn before making a purchase to find something that fits perfectly. Additionally, some urns come with special engravings or artworks that can add a personal touch to the memorialization process.

Companion urns are another option for spouses to keep their remains together. This type of urn is often designed to have two separate compartments to hold the ashes, while some may offer a design with one single compartment that can hold the ashes of both individuals.

The final choice ultimately comes down to your preferences and what feels suitable for honoring the life and memory of your loved one. With so many options available, it’s easy to find an urn that reflects their unique personality and respectfully captures the spirit of their memory.

Cultural and Religious Beliefs Surrounding Cremation

Cultural and religious beliefs can have a significant impact on the cremation process. For some, cremation is seen as a way to honor the deceased and help them transition into the afterlife. In other cultures, cremation is forbidden or discouraged.

No matter what religion or culture you come from, it’s essential to understand any special rituals or customs associated with the cremation process. For instance, some religions require that the body be buried within 24 hours after death has occurred. Others may require that specific items, such as photographs or letters, are placed into the casket before it is cremated.

It’s also important to consider any potential spiritual implications of cremation. Some believe that burning a body releases the soul from its physical form, allowing it to travel to another plane of existence. It’s essential to respect these beliefs when deciding how best to honor someone who has passed away.

Considering cultural and religious beliefs around cremation can help ensure that this challenging time is marked with respect and understanding for those affected by a loss.

Cremation Regulations and Legal Requirements

Regarding the cremation process, regulations and legal requirements must be followed. This includes obtaining permission from the next of kin or executor of the deceased’s estate and a death certificate from a doctor or coroner. It’s also important to note that some religious beliefs may require additional steps before cremation can occur.

In many cases, state laws will dictate which types of containers can be used during cremation. The container must be able combustible to burn with the body. Additionally, certain states may require that special paperwork is filed before cremation for it to be legally performed.

Understanding these regulations and legal requirements is vital when considering the option of cremation for a loved one. Cremations are increasingly popular but must be done according to applicable laws and regulations to ensure proper respect for the deceased.

Coping with Loss After Cremation

Coping with the loss of a loved one after cremation can be a difficult process. It is important to understand that the grieving process may take some time and that everyone grieves in their own way. It’s okay if it takes a while to feel like yourself again; this is part of the natural healing process.

Remembering and celebrating your loved one can help you cope with their passing. You may want to create a memorial page, throw a remembrance event, or spend some time reflecting on the memories you shared together. Honoring your loved one’s memory can be incredibly therapeutic and comforting.

Reaching out for support from friends, family, and other resources is another great way to get through this tough period. There are many organizations available online or in person which provide emotional support and guidance during times of grief. Don’t hesitate to reach out – you don’t have to go through this alone.

No matter what coping methods you choose, it’s important that you take care of yourself throughout the process by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, and engaging in enjoyable activities when possible. You deserve all the self-love and compassion as you make your way through this difficult journey.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Cremation


1. Cremation is usually a much cheaper option than a traditional burial.

2. It is a much more eco-friendly option, as it does not require the use of embalming fluid and does not take up as much land space.

3. It is a much faster process, as a cremation only takes a few hours compared to a burial which can take several days.

4. It is a more flexible option, as cremated remains can be kept in an urn, displayed in the home, or scattered in a special place.

5. Cremation can be done in a way that is more respectful and meaningful for the deceased’s family, as the service can be tailored to the family’s wishes.


1. Cremation is not the right choice for everyone, as some religious or cultural beliefs may not be compatible with the cremation process.

2. Cremation does not provide the same closure as a traditional burial, as family and friends may be unable to view or pay their respects similarly.

3. Cremation requires a special facility or service, which may not be available in all areas.

4. The cremated remains are not the same as a body, and some people may find this difficult to accept.

Cremation FAQs

What is the Difference Between Cremation and Burial?

Cremation and burial are different methods for disposing of a deceased body, but there are differences between the two. The choice between cremation and burial often depends on personal preference, cost, and environmental factors.

Cremation is an increasingly popular option due to its lower cost, convenience, and environmental impact. During cremation, the deceased’s body is placed in a special cremation container called a casket or an urn and then burned to ashes with intense heat.

Cremation can be done onsite at crematoriums or in funeral homes, making it more convenient than burial. In addition, it requires less land space than traditional burials since all that remains is the ashes of the deceased in an urn.

On the other hand, burial is typically more expensive than cremation due to associated costs like grave digging fees and headstones. It also requires more resources than cremation since there must be enough space to bury a casket in the ground. Moreover, traditional burials require greater land use which may have negative environmental impacts compared to cremations.

It’s important to consider both options before deciding how to lay someone to rest. Depending on individual preferences, budget, and environmental considerations, one choice may suit better than the other.

How Much Does Cremation Cost?

There are many variables to consider when considering the cost of a cremation. It’s important to understand that the costs associated with cremation will vary depending on the services you choose and where you are located. Price is an important factor in making this difficult decision, so let’s look at what goes into the cost of cremation.

First, a direct cremation service will be the most affordable type of cremation and can range from $1500-$2500, depending on your region and whether or not you choose to have a funeral service first.

This price includes transferring the body to the funeral home, filing paperwork, preparing documents for the death certificate, obtaining permits, and caring for the remains before and after the cremation process. You may also need to pay additional fees for an urn or memorial service.

The other factor affecting cost is whether you have any ceremony before or after the cremation. Having a viewing or visitation beforehand can add hundreds of dollars to your total fee and, on average, will cost $5,000-$7,000.

A memorial service afterward will add additional costs as well. For example, if you wish to have your loved one’s ashes interred in a cemetery, you must also factor in the burial plot and headstone costs. That amount can cost upwards of $8,000 and higher.

To decide how much you’re willing to spend on this important event, you must understand the available services and their associated costs. Doing research ahead of time and even speaking with a local funeral director can help ensure that your needs are met within your budget constraints.

Can a Body Be Viewed Without Embalming?

Cremation typically does not require the body to be embalmed. However, depending on the circumstances, if the family chooses to have an open casket viewing before the cremation, they may want to consider embalming the body as it slows the decomposing process.

Is a Casket Needed for Cremation?

Crematories require the body to be placed in a rigid container before cremation. This container can be made of wood, pressed board, or cardboard and is generally provided by the crematory.

How much ash is left after cremation?

The amount of ash produced after cremation varies wildly, depending on the body’s size and composition. Generally, an adult human body will have around 3-9 pounds (1.3-4 kg) of ashes.

How do I Know I am Getting My Loved Ones Remains Back?

Crematories follow strict procedures throughout the cremation process. Upon receiving a deceased body, paperwork must be obtained from the funeral home called a receipt of human remains.

The paperwork lists identifying information about the deceased, the names of the funeral home, and the individual who authorized the cremation, among other important information.

It also contains the identification number from an id tag assigned to the deceased, which stays with the body throughout the cremation so no mixup can occur.

When the cremation is finalized, all the paperwork, including the metal id tag, will be included with the final remains, ensuring the family has received their loved one’s remains.

Can I Keep the Ashes After Cremation?

When a person passes away, and their family decides to have their loved one cremated, it is up to the family to choose how to handle the ashes once received from the crematory.

This can give them closure and a tangible way to remember their loved one if they choose. Some people may bury or scatter the ashes in a special place. It’s important to check with local laws beforehand as some places have specific regulations regarding scattering or burying the ashes.

In addition, if you are considering keeping the ashes of your loved one at home, it is important to understand that there are specific requirements for properly storing them. The best option is often an urn specifically designed for this purpose, and many funeral homes offer these for sale.

Of course, you don’t have to use an urn. You could opt for a decorative box or something else entirely, but it’s best to make sure whatever vessel you use is secure and will not spill out onto other items.

No matter what decision is made about keeping or scattering the ashes of your loved one after the cremation, it’s important that it feels right for you and those closest to them. Taking the time to consider all the options can help ensure that their memory lives on in a way that honors their life and legacy.

Do Funeral Homes Have a Crematorium?

Not all funeral homes have a crematorium on-site. In some cases, the funeral home will partner with an off-site crematorium; in other cases, it will have its crematorium.

Is There a Specific Timeline for the Cremation Process?

The timeline for cremation can vary depending on the individual circumstances, but generally, it follows a set of steps.

First, death must be officially certified by a medical professional or coroner. Next, the body is prepared for cremation and moved to a crematorium. After that, the cremation will occur in a specially-designed chamber, typically lasting between two and three hours.

Other steps are also involved in the process, which may take additional time. For example, if an urn is being used to store the ashes after cremation, then this needs to be purchased beforehand. In addition, if there is a funeral service before or after the cremation, this will add further time to the timeline.

Overall, it is important to remember that each case is different and that the exact length of time it takes for a person’s body to be cremated can vary greatly depending on individual circumstances and preferences.

Therefore it is best to check with your local funeral home or crematorium before planning a funeral service or purchasing an urn for ashes after cremation.

Can I Attend the Cremation Service?

Attending the cremation service is a personal decision and can be a meaningful part of mourning. Depending on where you live, regulations may vary — some places don’t allow mourners to be present for the actual cremation, while others allow it.

If you can attend the cremation service, it can be a powerful experience that helps bring closure to friends and family. It’s important to remember that you should always follow whatever safety guidelines are in place at your chosen facility when attending any kind of funeral service.

The best way to find out whether or not attending the cremation is an option for you is to speak with your funeral director and local health department. They’ll be able to provide guidance specific to your situation. Asking questions and understanding your options will help ensure that this step in the bereavement process is done safely and meaningfully.

Are There Any Special Considerations for Cremating An Infant?

Cremating an infant involves special considerations that may not apply to adults. For example, a smaller casket is used for infants, and the cremation process must be adjusted to accommodate the size of the body. In addition, a parent or guardian may prefer to have the remains returned in a keepsake urn rather than an adult-sized urn.

It’s important to remember that cremation laws vary from state to state, so becoming familiar with your local regulations is necessary. Additionally, many religious beliefs and customs should be considered when deciding on an infant’s cremation service.

Discussing these considerations with the funeral home you select is also essential. They can guide how best to adhere to your individual wishes while ensuring respectful and dignified treatment of your loved one throughout the process.


Cremation is a respectful and dignified way to honor the memory of a loved one. As you can see, there are many factors to consider when making the decision to cremate. Knowing the details of the process and understanding what it involves helps families make an informed decision.

The cost of cremation can vary, so it’s important to research all available options and compare costs before choosing a service provider. An option that can help with these costs is to look into a cremation insurance policy. These plans are easy to obtain and payout a tax-free death benefit upon your death that can be used by your loved ones to pay for all the costs associated with your end-of-life expenses.

It’s also helpful for families to know that they can keep their loved one’s ashes if they choose to do so, as well as attend the cremation service if desired.

Overall, knowing the particulars of the cremation process helps ease any worries you may have about this sensitive subject. With this knowledge, families can confidently decide how best to honor their loved ones with dignity and respect.

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Jeffrey Manola - Life Insurance Expert

Jeffrey Manola is the founder of No Medical Exam Quotes, an online insurance agency that strongly focuses on helping people shop for the perfect life insurance policy. He is a licensed life insurance expert and content creator for the website.

Before becoming a life insurance agent, he served in the United States Marine Corps, transitioning from serving his country to helping families find affordable life insurance coverage beginning in 2009. Since starting a career as a licensed life insurance agent, Jeffrey has helped thousands of families with their life insurance needs.

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