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Written by Kim Wilhelm

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Last Updated 30 Nov 2021

How Does Cremation Work?

Cremation procedures have become as ordinary as traditional burials in the U.S. The surge in cremation results from many factors: lower cost, more personalization, flexible timing, and reduced religious affiliation, among other things. Final Expense Direct explains how the process works, and we identify the different types of cremation. We hope this information helps you decide whether cremation is right for you. 

Terminology

crematorium is a typical term for the facility that contains a cremation chamber. There could be many chambers in a crematorium. Usually controlled by the state, a crematorium may be a part of a church or funeral home or a separate facility.      

cremation chamber is an industrial furnace made to hold one body. Covered with fire-resistant bricks, it can withstand temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees. Modern furnaces are automated and fueled with propane, natural gas, or diesel.   


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The Cremation Process

It usually involves six steps:

Step 1: Identify the Deceased

Typically, a family member will confirm the identity of the deceased. A metal ID tag gets placed on the body. 

Step 2: Authorize the Procedure

The crematory will request the person making final arrangements to complete paperwork that allows the cremation to proceed.  

Step 3: Prepare the Body

Next, the facility will usually clean and dress the body, removing jewelry and other items for family members to keep. They’ll place the body in a sturdy yet a combustible vessel. 

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Step 4: Move into the Cremation Chamber 

Then, cremation occurs in a special furnace known as a cremation chamber. Temperatures will rise to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit! It leaves behind only ashes. After the procedure, there’s a necessary cooling period before they handle the remains. 

Step 5: Finalize the Remains

After cremation, they will examine the remains for any metal residue left over. They will use their hands or a strong magnet to remove it (like pins or screws from surgeries). Then, a unique processor mows down the cremated remains into the final ensuing ashes. 

Step 6: Transfer the Ashes 

Unless stated otherwise, the remains are put in an urn (or another container) and brought back to the family. 

How Long Does it Take?

The procedure normally takes between 2-3 hours for flame-based cremation and up to 16 hours for liquid cremation. However, the remains may not be ready for the bereaved until seven to ten days (typical turnaround time). It depends on the facility’s policies. 

Types of Cremation

There are a couple of choices for cremation:

Direct CremationLiquid Cremation
Uses heat to condense the body to bone fragmentsUses water and alkali to accelerate decomposition
Flame could create mercury byproductFlameless process consumes little energy and the resulting sterile solution can be recycled 
Smaller quantity of resultant ashesLarger quantity of resultant ashes
Removal of metal, pacemaker required Medical devices can be left in the body
Legal all overNot all states have approved it yet

Direct Cremation

This is a disposal option where the body is burned in the days immediately after the death. In other words, the remains get transferred directly to a crematory without a prior funeral service. A direct cremation is the most economical choice because it avoids many of typical funeral costs, for example:

  • The body is usually cremated in a basic container rather than an expensive casket.
  • There’s no viewing, wake, or visitation. The cost of embalming is removed.
  •  Unless you decide to bury the cremated remains, you don’t have the price of a plot, grave digging, and a headstone.

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Liquid Cremation 

The chemical process is known as “alkaline hydrolysis” — an alternative to flame-based cremation. It mixes water, alkali, pressure, and heat to decompose the body to liquid and bone elements. Bone fragments are kept so they can be dried and converted into a substance like cremated ashes. Liquid cremation yields about 30% more remains than traditional cremation.    

Note: Only about half of the states have legalized this chemical process. As of 2019, the status of alkaline hydrolysis in Texas was under construction.  

What Is Burial Insurance?

Burial insurance, also called final expense insurance, is a policy meant to cover your cremation (or funeral) expenses when you pass away. Coverage amounts may range from $2,000 to $40,000. The payout for benefits is quick. Plus, most health issues are approved, and no exams are required.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Cremation

What do you do when you’re faced with a tough decision? Many people like to make a list to see if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Planning your funeral isn’t the most glamorous subject. However, if you don’t plan ahead, your family could argue over what to do when you pass, creating unwanted conflict. Should we bury the body or go with a cheaper alternative, like cremation? Consider these benefits and drawbacks of cremation. 

Is Cremation Popular?

Cremation — the process of burning a dead body at extremely high temperatures — is replacing traditional burials. In 2015, it became the preferred choice for final deposition, and has been rising in popularity ever since.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, 54% of deaths were linked to the cremation method in 2019. This figure is projected to reach around 75% by 2040. 

Quick List: The Benefits of Cremation

  1. It’s often one-third of the cost of an average burial. A burial costs $2,000 – $3,000 on average.
  2. Cremation is friendly on the environment, having less impact on the planet.
  3. It’s often a simple, quick process. It doesn’t require a ton of logistical planning and there are fewer details involved.
  4. If you choose cremation, you can still have an open-casket funeral. 
  5. Sometimes the state will pay for it — if nobody claims the deceased person’s remains.
  6. Cremation presents options for the ashes. Do you want to keep them in an urn, or have scattered, buried, or incorporated into objects?


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Brief List: The Drawbacks of Cremation

  1. It may not have the same effect on the family as a traditional burial. Many people expect you to honor traditions.
  2. It can be hard to decide what to do with the cremation ashes. The family may disagree on how to scatter or commemorate them.  
  3. Some religions disapprove of cremation and some loved ones may not feel comfortable with the decision. 
  4. Scattering ashes means there will be no headstone to honor you. However, you can opt to have your ashes buried and marked, or have an empty marker placed for your loved ones to visit.

Note: This is not a complete list, but hopefully it helps you put things into perspective. What feels right to you? 

Have Conversations with Your Loved Ones

It’s critical to have conversations with family members about their final wishes. This will help make sure the wishes are carried out and choices are made that (hopefully) everyone is on board with.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Cremation

Final arrangements can be a difficult topic for families to approach. However, the more research you do now will benefit you and your loved ones when the time comes. Instead of a burial, you can opt for a more affordable arrangement — cremation. The cremation process often raises many questions. To make your decisions easier and provide peace of mind, Final Expense Direct has answered some of these questions. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does Cremation Cost?

It varies by city and the services performed. In 2020, New York City tops the most expensive cities for cremation, with a minimum of $550 and a maximum of $10,200. According to cremationinstitute.com, the average cost of a basic cremation is between $800 and $3,000.     

If you have a traditional service (viewing, casket, etc.) beforehand, it can substantially increase your costs. 

Prices in the US: Top 4 Most Expensive Cities

CityMinimumMaximum 
New York City, NY$550$10,200
Washington, DC$700$7,600
Houston, TX$675$6,800
Dallas, TX$850$6,300

What Container Is Used for Cremation?

There are certain caskets made for cremation, but the container can also be a basic cardboard box. The container (or box) must be non-toxic, combustible, and stable enough to hold the body’s weight.

What Container Is Used for the Remains?

The crematorium will usually put the remains in a sealed bag or container. If you wish to bury the remains in the receptacle, make sure to follow local burial requirements.

What Are Human Ashes Made Of?

They mainly consist of crushed bone fragments and any residue leftover from the container. The processing of the pieces creates a uniform grey powder similar to coarse sand.

Is the Coffin Burned at a Cremation?

Yes, they burn the coffin (or whatever kind of container chosen to hold the body) along with the body.

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How Much Ash Is There After Cremation?

It depends on the body’s size and the crematory’s process. Typically, there are 3 to 9 pounds of remains. 

What Do People Do with the Ashes?

There are many options for cremated remains, including personalized storage. It’s easy to move the ashes, so the deceased can be relocated if the family relocates. Some options include: 

  • Preserving the ashes in an urn
  • Converting the remains into jewelry, art, or other keepsakes 
  • Spreading the ashes in a natural area that had a special meaning 
  • Placing them in a tree plot, memorial bench, or sculpture

Cremation grants you the freedom to honor your loved one in almost any way that you want.

Is Your Loved One Clothed?

Most crematories will let you dress your loved one before the cremation or have a funeral professional clothe the body. Clothing choices must be flammable.    

Do They Cremate Multiple Bodies at Once?

No, all cremations are done individually. In the U.S., multiple-body cremation is prohibited.