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How Does the Cremation Process Work?

Gabrielle Applebury
Funeral urn

While many people know what cremation is in general, it can be helpful to know what exactly happens to the body during the process. Understanding the cremation process can help you decide if this is the right choice for you after you pass away.

How Does Cremation Work?

Cremation is typically set up through a funeral home, cemetery, or separate cremation service company. After someone passes away, an authorized individual, typically a family member, signs the appropriate paperwork that gives the cremation company permission to cremate the deceased individual's remains. Crematoriums often allow small groups of close friends and family members to be present while the cremation process happens, but the exact details will be up to the specific company. During the cremation process:

  1. A signed death certificate is obtained and a medical examiner approves the cremation.
  2. The crematorium will usually tag the body as part of the identification process after the body has been cleaned and dressed.
  3. Jewelry and medical devices are removed if the family wishes to have them back, otherwise jewelry can be left on.
  4. The body is carefully moved to a combustible container- typically made of wood.
  5. The container is moved to the retort, otherwise known as the cremation chamber.
  6. The body is cremated for about two hours in heat as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If desired, and the crematorium allows, a small group of close friends and family members may be present during this part of the process.
  7. Once the process is completed, a magnet may be used to remove any excess metals left behind. These metals may be recycled.
  8. The remains, or cremains which contain bone fragments, are ground up and placed in a container or cremation urn that can weigh anywhere from three to seven pounds.
  9. Individuals can typically pick up or have the ashes delivered to them anywhere from a week to a few weeks.

How Is a Body Prepared for Cremation?

Prior to cremation, the body is usually bathed and redressed. Prosthetics and other medical devices are removed. Jewelry may also be removed if that is what the family and the deceased individual previously agreed upon. Some individuals prefer to be cremated with certain sentimental pieces of jewelry. Once the body is prepared, an identification tag is placed on it.

Do You Wear Clothes During Cremation?

During cremation, individuals can wear clothing or be completely nude. Usually the request for or without clothing is made by the individual before they pass away. Some people may have requested to be cremated in a certain outfit and their family arranges to have it ready before the cremation process begins. Others may be cremated in pajamas or in hospital gowns depending on where they passed away.

How Long Does it Take to Cremate a Body?

In general, the entire cremation process takes anywhere from two to three hours. After the process is complete, the ashes are collected and placed either in an urn of your choosing, or in a container provided by the crematorium.

cremation service

How the Body Reacts to Cremation

During the cremation process, the body is broken down by high heat and flames until bone fragments, called cremains, are leftover.

Does the Body Sit Up During Cremation?

While bodies do not sit up during cremation, something called the pugilistic stance may occur. This position is characterized as a defensive posture and has been seen to occur in bodies that have experienced extreme heat and burning. During heat exposure, muscles can contract and tissues may shrink down resulting in a boxer-like pose.

What Happens to Teeth During Cremation?

Teeth can make it through the cremation process without being broken down completely, while teeth fillings and gold teeth will be melted down and mixed with the cremains. Teeth are typically ground up with the remaining bone fragments at the end of the process making the cremains, or ashes that loved ones will receive.

Are Organs Removed Prior to Cremation?

It is not necessary for organs to be removed prior to cremation. Organs, tissues, and muscles break down easily during the cremation process, so removing them prior isn't needed. If organs are removed prior to cremation for donation or other necessary reasons, this will not impact the individual's ability to be cremated.

Understanding the Cremation Process

The cremation process is an option that many individuals choose for themselves. Understanding the process fully can help you make an informed decision for yourself. Keep in mind that if you choose to arrange for your own cremation prior to passing away, you may want to consider noting if and where you'd like your ashes scattered.

How Does the Cremation Process Work?