15 Fascinating Facts About Cremation and Remains

Cremation is a mysterious process to outsiders. But once you pull back the curtain you discover a world of fascinating facts that are anything but sinister. Cremation is a highly practical way to deal with remains after death. It’s a respectful way to handle remains that still leaves families and loved ones with remains they can bury, scatter or keep.

There are a lot of misconceptions about cremation, likely linked to times where regulations around cremations were much looser. These regulations have now been tightened up and cremation is now one of the most popular ways to handle remains after death. Read on to learn more about cremation through some of the most interesting facts.

1. You can have a cremation without a funeral

A cremation without a funeral is known as a direct cremation. This may be requested by the deceased in their will, or it may be the only option for someone with no remaining family. Direct cremation happens when there is no ceremony before or after. The body is cremated and then the remains can be collected by a loved one. If the ashes are not claimed, the funeral home will hold on to them for up to 5 years before scattering them at an appropriate location.

2. It’s against the law to cremate more than one body at once

There is a common fear that bodies will be mixed up during cremation and the family will end up with the wrong remains. This is an unfounded fear. It’s against the law for crematoriums to cremate more than one body at once. In fact, the cremation chamber is only designed to fit one coffin.

3. Ashes aren’t really ashes

When the family receives the remains of their loved one, they are often referred to as the ashes. This isn’t technically true. Instead, the remains are the bones and fragments of the coffin. The temperature inside the cremation chamber is so high that all organic matter is vaporised. All that remains is the dried bones, which are then crushed and placed in an urn.

4. Japan leads the world in cremation rates

Around 99.9% of all human remains are cremated in Japan. This is for practical reasons as much as anything else. Since Japan is a small island and it is densely populated, it would be impractical to dedicate land to burials. This is why the majority of people are cremated after death.

Cremation is more popular than burial

5. Cremation is more popular than burial

Cremation accounts for around 75% of all funerals in the UK. It’s more popular than burial, likely because it is a cheaper option. With a burial, the family has to own a plot in a cemetery, and this can be difficult given that space is so limited. Some religious groups forbid cremation, so this is why there are still quite a few burials in the UK. Learn more about the difference between cremation and burial on our blog.

6. Cremation chambers are incredibly hot

The body is never actually exposed to flames during a cremation. Instead, the cremation chamber becomes so hot that the organic matter is vaporised and all that remains is the dried out bones. This is a highly practical way to deal with a body after death. The temporaring inside the chamber can reach 1300°C.

7. Some items cannot be cremated

Before a cremation can take place, the funeral director or the hospital may remove certain items from the body which are at risk of exploding in the very high temperatures of the cremation oven. This includes items like pacemakers and large joint replacements. This is because of the risk of damage to the cremation chamber if the item explodes.

Families can often place items in the coffin to be burned with the body, but there are restrictions on what can be placed alongside the body. Plastic, PVC and glass items are at risk of exploding in the cremation chamber. Items like photographs, blankets and soft toys will be permitted, provided they aren’t too large and won’t take too long to burn.

8. The entire process takes around 2-3 hours

The entire process from start to finish takes around 2-3 hours, depending on the size of the body and the coffin. First, the chamber is sealed and filled with air before it is ignited and the intense heat breaks down the coffin and the body. Once the body is sufficiently broken down, the remains are cooled and a magnet is used to check for metal items. Finally, the remaining matter is crushed in a machine into a fine dust that resembles ashes. This is then delivered to the family.

Disneyland is a popular spot for scattering remains

9. Disneyland is a popular spot for scattering remains

While it is against the rules to scatter the ashes of loved ones in Disneyland, this doesn’t stop individuals from trying and succeeding. The Haunted Mansion is one of the most popular rides to scatter ashes. Staff even have a secret code to indicate that a cleanup is required in places where visitors have scattered ashes. If you are caught scattering ashes in the theme park, you can expect to be escorted off the property and maybe even banned for life.

10. There are restrictions on where you can scatter remains

If you want to scatter your loved one’s ashes on private land, you’ll need the permission of the land owner. People will often try to sneak ashes into football games to try to scatter ashes on the pitch, but this is likely to get you kicked out and banned. When choosing a place to scatter ashes, it’s best to choose somewhere remote, away from crowds, and on public land.

11. You can do lots of things with the remains

Once you receive the ashes of your loved one, there are plenty of options for next steps. You can bury the ashes, scatter them, keep them in an urn, or get more creative. Ashes jewellery and artwork are growing in popularity as a way to keep a loved one close in a discreet way. You can then scatter the remaining ashes without feeling like you are fully letting go of the individual.

There are no rules about how long you should hang on to cremation ashes or what you should do with them. Some families prefer to wait until the worst of their grief has passed as it will allow them to make a decision that isn’t clouded by grief. This can also help to avoid disagreements between family members that may be more heated in the months immediately following the funeral.

12. Aquamation is growing in popularity as an alternative to cremation

Although not currently offered in the UK, it is growing in popularity in the USA and Canada. With aquamation, the body is placed in a stainless steel vat and immersed in water and an alkaline. It is then sealed and heated, until the organic matter is broken down and all that remains is bones.

The liquid is drained and the bones are dried and crushed. These bones are then given to the family in place of the ashes. This is thought to be a more eco-friendly alternative to cremation, as no fossil fuels are used to burn the bodies and fewer greenhouse gases are emitted.

Cremation isn’t just for humans

13. Cremation isn’t just for humans

Your four legged and furry friends can also be cremated. This is a popular choice for larger animals like horses, which require specialised cremation chambers. Many larger veterinary clinics will have their own cremation chamber so they can handle smaller pets like cats and dogs.

Cremating a pet is an excellent option if you want to turn their ashes into jewellery or artwork. It’s also a sensible choice if you don’t have a private garden, as you may struggle to find a place to bury your beloved pet.

14. Cremains usually weigh between 2 to 3 kg

The ashes that the family receives will usually weigh between 2kg and 3kg. The volume of the ashes will depend on the size of the body. The final weight is usually around 3.5% of the deceased person’s original weight.

15. Several documents are required before a cremation can take place

Cremation is a highly regulated service and cannot be carried out without a few important documents. In order to be able to go ahead with a cremation, the funeral home will need a copy of the death certificate, a certificate for burial or cremation, an application for cremation, the cremation medical certificate, the confirmatory medical certificate and the authorization for cremation form. These documents are often gathered by the funeral director as part of their service.

Closing thoughts

We hope that this article has cleared up some of the misconceptions you may have had about cremation. We also hope that you have learned some interesting facts about the role of cremation in our society.

Cremation is often thought to be an uncomfortable topic, but it is a natural part of the end of our lives. In the future, we may switch to more eco-friendly processes such as aquamation, but at the moment cremation is one of the most popular choices for dealing with human remains in the UK.