Realities and Rules About Spreading Ashes

Gabrielle Applebury
Scattering Cremated Ashes

Spreading ashes can be a beautiful way to honor a loved one who has passed away. Knowing the ins and outs of spreading ashes can help you be as prepared as possible on the day of.

Preparing to Spread Ashes

Knowing what to expect when it comes to spreading ashes may help increase your comfort level when doing so. On top of preparing for the physical act of spreading ashes, it's also a good idea to think about how you might feel emotionally while doing so. This way, you'll know if you need to bring anything extra such as tissues, or ask a friend or family member to accompany you.

What Do Ashes Look Like?

Ashes resemble sand and range in color from white to grey. The exact color will vary, but you can expect a sand or powder like texture. They usually weigh about 4 to 6 pounds.

What Do Ashes Feel Like?

Ashes will feel gritty, like sand. When handling ashes be mindful that they can blow away and can slip through your fingers easily. Ashes are typically run through a machine that unifies the texture of the remains.

What's in Ashes?

Ashes are made up of the deceased individual's bone, salt, minerals, as well as some trace amounts of a casket or burial container. Any large pieces will pass through a machine so all you'll receive are your loved one's remains as a sand-like material.

Do Ashes Smell?

Some people wonder what ashes may smell like while scattering them. Many people don't notice a smell or note a light metallic scent.

How to Scatter Ashes

Ashes are safe to touch and do not pose a health risk when handled. To scatter ashes, you can use your hands, a spoon, a shovel, or a scoop to remove the ashes from their urn or container and spread them. You can also tip the container or urn over in different areas if you'd like the ashes to reach a few locations.

Family scattering ashes in a garden

How to Split Up Ashes

Ashes can be poured carefully into several receptacles, or a spoon or scooper can be used to transfer some ashes. Ashes should be handled delicately and with care as they are easily spilled and can blow away if done outside.

Know What to Expect Upon Release

When scattering ashes, be mindful of the direction of the wind, so you don't end up with ashes all over you. In water, ashes may float for a bit, depending on if they're in an urn, and then mix into the water while sinking slowly. In the snow, ashes will slowly mix into the snow as if melting, but if scattered closely together in one spot, some may remain on the surface. If there are any remaining on the surface of the snow, you can rake the rest into the land. As snow melts, the ashes will disperse.

Laws Around Transporting and Scattering Ashes

Laws around transporting and scattering ashes will differ from location to location, so it's always best to check in prior to spreading your loved one's ashes. Keep in mind that:

  • You are allowed to travel on an airplane with ashes, but rules around inspection may vary. Check in with the airline ahead of time to make sure you are comfortable with their procedures.
  • The U.S. Postal Service is able to ship cremated remains if you wish to send ashes to a loved one.
  • The EPA regulates scattering ashes in the ocean and notes that the ashes must be human remains and released at least 3 nautical miles from the shore either freely or in a compostable receptacle. Other regulations should be viewed on their site prior to releasing any ashes. Keep in mind when spreading ashes in the sea that ashes may blow away in the wind once released, or gently float down into the ocean.
  • Some national parks will grant permits for spreading ashes in certain locations.

Preparing Yourself Emotionally

Scattering your loved one's ashes can feel very intense. To prepare as much as possible, think about how you'll feel touching the ashes and physically scattering them. Imagining yourself doing so can help you understand what this process may feel like the day of. If you find yourself feeling too overwhelmed, reach out for support. Have a loved one join you. They don't need to be present during the scattering process if you aren't comfortable, but it's nice to have some support afterwards if you'd like.

Understanding the Process of Spreading Ashes

Spreading ashes is a wonderful way to memorialize your loved one. Doing so in a special place can be a significant and meaningful way for you to release their ashes.

Realities and Rules About Spreading Ashes