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What Size Urn Do You Need for a Loved One’s Ashes?

This is part of Cake's collection of Funeral Funeral planning articles. Create a Cake profile for free to discover, document, and share your end-of-life wishes.

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When choosing urns for ashes, it’s important to understand what size urn you need. If you get an urn that’s too large, you’ll have extra space inside, and the urn could take up more room than you have available.

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If you get one that’s too small, it may not be able to hold your loved one’s cremains. Thankfully, the steps to figuring out the right size are not very complicated and should make choosing the right urn a simple process.

Steps for Figuring Out What Size Urn You’ll Need

Choosing an urn for a loved one can be a daunting task. Aside from the choices to make in style, color, and material, you also need to determine what size it should be. Simply follow the two-step process below, and you’ll be able to confidently make your selection.

Step 1: Decide urn’s purpose

There are many types of urns and, depending on the purpose of the urn, you’ll need to find an option with specific dimensions. Here are a few common purposes for urns today.

Display at home

Measure the area you’ll be using to display the urn. Ensure the urn you chose fits these dimensions.

Scattering of ashes

If choosing to scatter your loved one’s ashes, you’ll want to choose an urn that holds all of the ashes you will scatter. After the ashes are scattered, the urns can be placed on display in your home and even used as a vase to provide a continual reminder and memorial of your loved one.

Water burial

If deciding to bury ashes at sea, you might want a water-soluble urn to place them in rather than scattering them. If this is your choice, make sure your package is large enough to hold all the cremains from your loved one unless you’re saving some to put in a vase, as well.

Columbarium niche

Each cemetery has its own columbarium niche dimensions. You’ll need to find out the exact height, depth, and width of the niche to make sure your urn fits inside.

You’ll also want to check to ensure your urn is made of permissible materials, as cemeteries may not permit urns made of certain materials such as blown glass or biodegradable urns.

Burial

If choosing to bury the urn in the ground, you will either place your urn in a burial container or an urn vault. For either of these items, your urn can only be as large as the inside of the container or vault.

Many vaults can be purchased with a matching urn designed to fit the specific dimensions of the urn. If purchasing an urn and burial container or vault separately, ensure that your urn fits properly inside so the lid can fully close.

Shared cremains

If you’re planning to share cremains among family members or store a smaller portion of the cremains after sending some to an artist to make cremation jewelry, then you’ll want a smaller urn, in general. Medium-sized urns and small urns for family sharing are readily available.

Step 2: Determining urn volume

Once you have a good grasp on the outside dimensions you need, you then need to determine how much volume inside the urn is necessary to house the cremains of your loved one. The volume inside an urn is measured in cubic inches, and the requirements for holding cremains are as follows:

Adult cremains

For adults, you want one cubic inch of space in the urn for each pound the person weighed. For a woman who weighed 120 pounds, the urn should be at least 120 cubic inches. For a man who weighed 150 pounds, the urn should be at least 150 cubic inches. It’s always better to go slightly larger to be sure of a proper fit.

Children cremains

For young children who weighed 10-20 pounds, you’ll want an urn with a minimum of 30 cubic inches. For children weighing thirty pounds or more, use the adult volume measurement. Extra space can also be used for special notes or mementos.

Infant cremains

For infants weighing 10 pounds or less, an urn of 20 cubic inches is appropriate. 

Popular Types of Small and Large Urns for Human Ashes

While some urns come sized specifically for infants, children, or adults, many urn types are made available in a number of sizes to accommodate the needs of families. Unless specified, the urn types mentioned below are available in both small and large sizes.

There are as many types of urns as there are types of people in the world. When you choose an urn to represent your loved one, you can pick a creative urn that displays their unique personality, interests, or the things they loved.

1. Wooden urn

For those with a love of nature or someone who enjoyed the simple things in life, consider purchasing a polished wood urn. These urns can be made out of a wide variety of materials, including oak, ash, cherry, mahogany, and mango wood.

2. Hand-painted urn

Hand-painted urns are a popular choice with many people thanks to their variety and diversity. Whether you choose a specific color scheme to represent your loved one or decide to have an artist paint a scene such as a special landscape, a hobby the person enjoyed, or a family portrait, you will have a one-of-a-kind urn that is as special as the person who passed away.

3. Blown glass urn

Though incredibly delicate, handblown glass urns hold a special place for many families. These unique urns are perfect for family members who were especially young or especially old, such as daughters, grandmothers, or great-great-grandmothers.

Be sure to choose carefully, because these urns will not do well if your urn needs to be shipped or placed in an outside urn garden.

4. Ceramic urn

Urns crafted out of clay can be made in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colored with numerous types of glaze. If you want an artist to create a truly one of a kind urn, pottery may be the way to go.

With clay, you can create urns in the traditional style in addition to special urns shaped to look like animals (such as a horse for a horserider), flowers (for someone who loved botany), and objects (such as a cowboy boot for someone who lived in the country). The sky is the limit for ceramics and might be ideal if you’re looking for something special and unique.

5. Box urn

Small box urns made of wood or ceramic are usually designed for infants and children. They are small and can fit easily on a home mantle, in a special display case, or on a dresser in a bedroom.

They are usually adorned with a picture of the child in addition to their name and date of birth. Other options contain only an inscription with a symbol such as baby booties or a rattle.

6. Urn necklace

Urn necklaces are not meant to contain much of a person’s ashes, just a small portion to wear with you. These come in a wide variety of styles and shapes.

Most commonly available are hearts made of silver or gold. Some can be inscribed with the name of the person who passed away while others might have a quote, such as, “No longer by my side but forever in my heart.”

7. Small duplicate urns

For families that want each member to have a remembrance of the person who passed away, one single large urn isn’t often ideal. In this case, you’ll want to choose duplicate smaller urns that match the main urn you purchase.

When purchasing an urn, check first to see whether “small” sizes are offered so each member of the family can have a similar but smaller urn.

8. Stained glass urn

Urns made of stained glass are usually crafted to resemble a box. While many boxes are sized to fit one person, they can be made big enough for two people, such as a husband and a wife.

The person’s or couple’s picture and an inscription are often included on the side of the box. These types of urns are particularly delicate and should not be used if the urn needs to be shipped. 

9. Biodegradable tree system urn

Biodegradable urns are ideal for those who loved nature and would want a “green” burial. The biodegradable urn and tree system is a popular option for families who want to plant a tree with the ashes of their loved one for a living memorial.

Planting a tree with the ashes only will not enable the tree to take root and thrive. Choosing a tree system urn allows you to plant a tree with the ashes and nutrients necessary for your living memorial to take root and thrive.

10. Biodegradable water urns

If you’re planning a scattering ashes ceremony, you might want to look into biodegradable water urns.

Rather than scattering ashes into the water, these urns allow you to place the remains of your loved one into a floating vessel. You will be able to watch the floating urn while it remains on top of the water. Slowly, the urn will dissolve, and your loved one’s ashes will be scattered into the water. 

Special Rememberances  

The urn you choose to hold your loved one serves as a special remembrance of their life, their love, and their memory.

Choose an urn that best represents them and makes you think of their memory each time you look at it. Let these guiding principles help you choose the right urn, and you won’t go wrong.