How does cremation work?
As you’d expect, cremation in the UK is highly regulated and sensitively managed. However, despite close to 80% of us choosing to be cremated, you may be more familiar with the misconceptions and horror stories than you are with the facts.
So, if you’re arranging a funeral or putting funeral insurance in place for the future, we have created a short and easy-to-read guide to show you how cremation works, to help you make more informed decisions.
Facts about cremation
- You have final say in how the deceased is prepared for cremation - Loved ones can choose the coffin and the clothes they would like the person to wear. They can also place sentimental items in the coffin to go with them.
- Only pacemakers must be removed before cremation - Pacemakers must be removed as there is a risk they will explode. Any other metal including jewellery will be cremated and removed from the ashes afterwards. This is why it’s advisable to ask the funeral director to remove any precious or sentimental metal items beforehand.
- The process is thorough - The coffin is placed in a specifically designed furnace called a cremator or cremation chamber and the body exposed to heat so intense it incinerates tissue and reduces bone to ashes.
- Cremation usually takes somewhere between one and three hours - Ultimately it depends on the person’s size and weight, what the coffin is made of and the temperature inside the cremator.
- The ashes are prepared with care - After the cremation, a magnet is used to remove any remaining metal like dental fillings. Then the ashes are ground to a fine powder before being released to the family. The ashes can usually be collected from the crematorium or the funeral director’s within a few days of the cremation.
Common myths about cremation
- Coffins get recycled - This is simply not true. UK regulation dictates that the coffin cannot be opened after it arrives at the crematorium. The coffin gets cremated (and reduced to ash) along with the body.
- Only traditional wooden coffins can be used for cremation - It’s true that cremators were designed to accommodate traditional wooden coffins but times are changing and some crematoria will accept alternatives such as a cardboard or wicker coffin or even a shroud.
- People get cremated together - This is impossible as cremators can only accommodate one coffin at a time. All cremations are carried out individually in accordance with the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities Code of Practice. The only exception is if loved ones ask for a mother and baby or small twins to be cremated together in the same coffin.
- Ashes get mixed up so you may be given the wrong ones - Another misconception you don’t need to worry about. Before a cremation takes place, the nameplate is checked and an identification card is created that stays with the body right through until the ashes are released.
- Different ashes get mixed together - Just like the previous point, the whole process is tracked from start to finish to ensure ashes remain separate and the correct ashes are returned to the family,
Must you have a cremation service?
No you don’t. You could choose direct cremation, which takes place at the crematorium without any mourners in attendance. It can be an affordable option or a good alternative if you’d prefer to remember the person in a different way, such as a celebration of life or a memorial service.
Can you view the body before the cremation?
If you are having a funeral service before the cremation, you can usually view the body in the chapel of rest beforehand but do check with your funeral director. It’s not usually possible to view the body before a direct cremation but you may be able to attend the committal.
Can you witness the cremation process?
Probably yes. The majority of crematoria allow loved ones to witness the cremation process provided you make arrangements in advance with the crematorium and the funeral director.
Direct cremation information