What’s a Crematorium & How Do They Work?

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Cremation has become an increasingly popular means of disposing of a deceased loved one’s body for many in recent years. Statistics indicate more than half of Americans now undergo cremation. According to some researchers, that statistic will reach nearly 80 percent by 2035.

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Cremation usually occurs in a special facility called a crematorium. In many general capacities, a crematorium fills the same role as a traditional funeral home. Loved ones of a deceased person will coordinate with management at a crematorium to ensure their wishes are met.

If you’re ever in a position that requires choosing between cremation or burial for a loved one, you might understandably have some questions about how a crematorium works.

This guide will explain the topic in greater detail, describing the cremation process, and offer tips for choosing the right crematorium for your goals.

What’s a Crematorium?

Cremation is exposing a body to extreme heat to dispose of it. Thus, the nature of the process requires special equipment designed to carry out the cremation safely and effectively. A crematorium is home to this equipment. The facility will usually store a body for a period of time before cremation as well, and handle transferring the remains to the deceased’s loved ones.

Throughout the history of cremation, the types of equipment and tools crematorium specialists use have developed and changed. Today’s crematoriums usually dispose of corpses with furnaces that generate temperatures reaching up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The corpses remain in chambers with heat-resistant refractory bricks during the cremation process.

Common fuels for most of today’s crematorium furnaces are propane and natural gas. However, several decades ago, a crematorium might rely on coal to fuel the process.

Research also suggests that humans have been cremating dead bodies for thousands of years. That said, most experts believe the modern cremation process didn’t come to be until around 1873. Before then, cremation might occur outdoors and usually involved simply burning a corpse over a pyre.

It’s also worth noting that a crematorium isn’t always a standalone facility. For instance, sometimes a crematorium may be part of a chapel or funeral home.

ยป MORE: Instead of ashes, create a beautiful stone. Parting Stone helps you keep your loved ones close.

 

What Happens at a Crematorium?

You may be wondering how cremation works. While some of the specifics of the cremation service can potentially vary from one crematorium to another, in general, the process involves the following key steps.

Identification

Someone needs to confirm the identity of a body before its cremation. Usually, the person identifying the body is a family member, although there may be some exceptions. This is because some of the laws regarding identifying a body for cremation can vary from one state to another. Additionally, individual crematoriums may have their own unique policies.

Once someone has confirmed the identity of the deceased, those making the arrangements (which will often be the same ones who identified the body) will complete paperwork to officially authorize the cremation.

Preparation

Preparing the body for cremation will typically involve cleaning and dressing it. Most of the time it’s not necessary to embalm a body before cremation, but sometimes loved ones of the deceased will request embalming if, for example, they would like to hold a viewing before the cremation.

If a body has any medical devices and/or prosthetics that may trigger an adverse reaction during the cremation process, the team at the crematorium will remove them. They’ll also usually remove jewelry unless loved ones of the deceased request that certain items stay with the body while the cremation is occurring.

Cremation

The cremation can begin after the body has been fully prepared.

The team will move the body into the chamber and turn the machinery on until nothing is left of the body except for cremated remains. The process usually takes between one and three hours.

Final steps

The remains left behind in the immediate aftermath of a cremation normally need to undergo a separate process before loved ones can collect them.

First, the crematorium team will inspect the remains for any metal items or fragments, removing any they find. They will then use special equipment to grind down the remains.

Once these steps are complete, they will transfer the remains to an urn and give them to the deceased’s loved ones, unless they made special requests for a different arrangement.

Do You Have to Choose a Crematorium for a Loved One?

Not necessarily. That said, to avoid having to decide on a crematorium, you normally will have to choose a funeral home.

Some funeral homes offer cremation services that involve choosing a crematorium for you. The funeral home may have its own crematorium, or the funeral directors may have professional relationships with other cremation specialists. They might recommend a crematorium, or simply choose one they think is right.

Tips for Choosing a Good Crematorium

Whether you’re choosing a crematorium for a loved one’s cremation, or you’re planning for your own future cremation, you want to be certain you’ve picked a facility that will offer reliable and trustworthy services. 

Don’t worry if making this type of decision is stressful for you. These tips will make choosing the right crematorium much easier.

Read testimonials

As is the case with many other types of businesses, many crematoriums now have websites or another online presence featuring testimonials from former customers. You can read these to get a better sense of which crematoriums in your area have the best reputations.

That said, any crematorium’s management will naturally select only positive testimonials to include on their website. Thus, you might also want to look for reviews on independent platforms, such as social media pages or Google reviews.

The fact that a cremation provider satisfied some people to such a degree that they were willing to give a positive testimonial doesn’t mean that all former customers had the same experience.

Make visits

If you have enough time to visit a few crematoriums before choosing one, consider doing so. You can call or email the facility’s manager to ask if they’ll let you schedule a brief visit. In many cases, they will. This gives you a chance to see a facility in person before deciding if it’s right for your loved one’s cremation.

Of course, when making so many critical decisions after a loved one’s passing, you may not have the time to meet directly with several cremation providers. If not, you should still ask them a few of your most pressing questions over the phone. A cremation provider you can trust will take the time to answer your questions thoroughly and clearly.

Ask for price-lists

Under the FTC’s “Funeral Rule” law, funeral providers and similar businesses must provide customers with accurate price lists for their services if customers request them. Thus, if you ask a crematorium’s management to give you a detailed list of the services they provide and the prices they charge, they legally need to comply with your request.

Accounting for your budget is always important when planning a funeral or cremation. You want to choose the right facility without spending more than you can afford to. You also want to make sure you’re choosing a facility that offers all the specific services you’re looking for.

That said, it’s important not to choose a crematorium solely because its prices are affordable. If a crematorium’s services are budget-friendly, but you’re unsure whether the crematorium’s reputation is positive, you should err on the side of safety and consider another option.

Consider years in business

A cremation provider offers an extremely important service to those in grief. If they fail to satisfy their customers, they won’t stay in business very long. 

Look for cremation providers who’ve served their communities for decades. If they’ve managed to stay in business for that long, odds are good they’re trustworthy.

Ask about guarantees

Just as many a trustworthy cremation provider will take the time to answer your questions, so too will many offer certain guarantees to their customers.

These guarantees demonstrate they’re confident in their own services. For instance, many crematoriums guarantee that, barring very extraordinary circumstances, cremation will occur on schedule. 

Ask a cremation provider if they offer any such guarantees. Their answer could give you the peace of mind necessary to make a decision.

Crematorium: An Increasingly Important Facility

With cremation becoming a more and more common way to dispose of a body after a person’s death, the role of a crematorium in society is also becoming more prominent. Hopefully, this guide helped you better understand the nature of that role.

If you're looking for more guidance on cremation, read our guides on urns for ashes and what you can do with cremation ashes.


Sources

  1. “Funeral Rule.” Federal Trade Commission, www.ftc.gov/news-events/media-resources/truth-advertising/funeral-rule
  2. “WESTERN HISTORY OF CREMATION.” All Things Cremation, Cremation Association of North America, www.cremationassociation.org/page/HistoryOfCremation

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