While most people are familiar with the difference between cremations and burials, there’s still a lot of confusion about what exactly happens during the cremation process. The cremation process is something that usually happens out of the sight of the mourners, so it’s understandable for people to find themselves unsure of what happens.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Does Cremation Work?
- Where Does the Casket or Coffin Go? Is It Burned During Cremation?
- Can You Put Anything Else in a Casket Before Cremation?
- Types of Caskets for Cremations
- Can Families Rent a Casket?
- Do You Have to Buy a Casket If a Loved One is Cremated?
- What Is a Direct Cremation?
- Alternative Containers for Cremation
There are a lot of myths that have popped up over time to provide answers to these questions. While these myths are based on some truth, the reality is a lot different than most imagine. With so many different types of caskets to choose from, what exactly happens to this casket after cremation?
If you’ve ever shopped around for a casket for yourself or a loved one, you know that casket prices are anything but cheap. With such a high cost associated with these final resting places, what happens to the casket after cremation? Let’s peek behind the curtain at the crematorium to find out once and for all.
How Does Cremation Work?
To start, let’s explain how the cremation process works. Since this is something people rarely see for themselves, there’s a lot of mystery around the process and what exactly happens. Though over half of Americans choose cremation today, few understand how it works. It comes down to 6 steps:
- Identification: First, the body is identified within the crematorium. This varies by state, but there is usually a metal ID tag placed on the body throughout the process.
- Authorization: Next, the crematorium needs permission to proceed further. Again, these rules vary based on the state. This is also when the family decides what type of casket (or alternative container) will be used and who will pick up the remains.
- Preparations: The body is prepared for cremation. This typically involves cleaning and dressing. It’s usually not embalmed unless it’s to be viewed in a funeral service. All medical devices are also removed from the body.
- Cremation: The cremation happens in a special furnace which is designed only for this purpose. It heats up to 1,800 degrees to turn the body into cremated remains (ashes).
- Inspection: After the ashes cooled, the remains are inspected for any metal remains. Everything left is ground into the ashes most people are familiar with.
- Transfer: Finally, the ashes are transferred into an urn or container to be returned to the family.
Compared to other ways to lay a body to rest, this is a relatively quick process. The actual cremation only takes between 2 to 3 hours, and the ashes are returned to the family relatively fast. The family doesn’t have to worry about much beyond the casket question, ensuring they have the time they need to grieve.
Where Does the Casket or Coffin Go? Is It Burned During Cremation?
The answer to where the casket or coffin goes is actually quite simple. It stays with the body. Most crematories actually require a container for the body. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a casket, but the body is rarely placed into the flames without any type of cover. However, this depends on local laws.
The casket or coffin goes into the cremation chamber with the body. The cremation process takes up to 3 hours, and the ashes will include both the deceased casket and the individual, though very little of the casket remains.
Can You Put Anything Else in a Casket Before Cremation?
Another common question is whether you can put anything else in the casket before it's cremated. Unlike burial, there are stricter guidelines on what is and isn’t allowed in a casket prior to cremation.
Because the cremation chamber reaches extremely high temperatures, not all items are safe to include. It’s a good idea to talk to your specific funeral home about their requirements before adding anything to the casket.
What can you put in a casket before cremation?
In short, you can put most things in a casket with the deceased before cremation. Most families choose to include personal items. This can be things like photos, letters, flowers, teddy bears, blankets, or religious items. In some cases, the family might place other cremation ashes of a close relative in the casket as well.
However, you have to pay attention to practical concerns. Everything placed in the cremation casket will be burned to ash. This means it will be mixed with the ashes in the urn, and there is no way to separate items once placed in the chamber. Additionally, there is limited space in the casket, so large items aren’t usually permitted. When in doubt, talk to your funeral director.
What can’t be put in a casket before cremation?
On the other hand, what can’t go into a casket before cremation? The most notable thing that’s prohibited is jewelry. While some funeral homes allow this, it’s not usually recommended to include anything metal. These items will melt in the cremation chamber, so they’re usually removed after the viewing.
For safety reasons, anything combustible that might cause damage will be removed. If there’s something you wish to include with the deceased, you can typically leave this during the funeral or viewing. Before the cremation, your funeral director will remove any personal items that aren’t allowed and return them to the family.
Types of Caskets for Cremations
There are a few different caskets used for cremations. These aren’t typically the expensive, fancy caskets you see during traditional burials. Because the body is intended to be cremated, most families opt for something simpler or more cremation-friendly.
This is something the funeral director can help with, however, most of these cremation caskets are made from cardboard or wood. Sometimes it’s just a cloth covering, but this depends on the state and country laws. Generally, the casket can’t have any metal parts since these won’t burn completely.
Why are caskets needed?
Most places around the world require some type of covering to be over the body. This adds a layer of respect and also assists with the identification process within the crematorium. These caskets aren’t often the same used during the funeral or memorial service.
In addition, most crematorium operators aren’t licensed to directly handle human remains. Those who are licensed are known as morticians, and this is a special certification. As such, crematorium operators cannot directly handle the body, so a cover or container is needed.
Can Families Rent a Casket?
For those that choose to have the body at the funeral or memorial service, it’s possible to rent a coffin. Rented coffins are provided by the funeral home, and these resemble the caskets you’re likely to see buried in a graveyard.
These caskets feature liners that are swapped out between uses to keep the casket sanitary for each individual person. This liner is often transferred to the cremation casket and burned with the body.
By renting a casket, the family saves in funeral costs since it’s impractical to purchase more than one casket outright. This cost-saving choice allows the body to still be present at the funeral if the family chooses this option.
Do You Have to Buy a Casket If a Loved One is Cremated?
With this in mind, do you need to buy a casket if you plan to have a loved one cremated? In general, most states do not require a casket legally for a cremation. They do require some kind of container, though that container doesn’t need to be a casket.
Aside from the traditional choices of hardwood, softwood, or cardboard, any type of combustible container is allowed. This could be bamboo, hemp, wicker, or plywood. As long as there’s no metal, it’s typically allowed. In some states, the body only needs a cloth cover.
For those that aren’t able to afford an expensive casket, an alternative material like cardboard, plywood, or wicker is a more affordable choice. Unlike metal caskets, these are usually between $200 - $1,000 depending on the style and material choice. Some crematoriums even offer free cardboard caskets for certain types of cremations.
Another option that requires a less formal casket like one of the low-cost alternatives below is known as a direct cremation. This is when the body is cremated immediately or very shortly after death. The body isn’t present at the funeral or memorial service, and it’s also not preserved with chemicals in any way.
By choosing direct cremation, the family skips the step of worrying about a rented or display coffin. It’s still possible to hold a direct cremation with a memorial service afterward. Since there’s no more need for a casket, families often choose to use these funds to pay for a service, the urn, or a scattering ceremony.
Tip: If you're looking for something very unique to remember your loved one, you can custom order an urn from a store like Foreverence or even have a memorial diamond made with a company like Eterneva.
Alternative Containers for Cremation
Though most people are familiar with expensive, intricate caskets, these aren’t usually used for cremation unless requested by the family. Instead, most funeral homes use a simple wooden casket or one of these alternative containers below.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these alternative containers for cremation. Not only are they more affordable, but many are also eco-friendly. These alternative containers for cremation below are specifically designed to hold the deceased in the cremation chamber.
One of the first types of natural caskets you might encounter for cremation is a seagrass casket. These are usually hand-made from willow with a seagrass rope detail. They can be lined or unlined, depending on the family’s wishes. Because a lot of intricate detail goes into creating these caskets, they’re typically more costly than other natural options.
Another natural option is a bamboo casket. This is also a woven basket, but it’s not usually tapered. Bamboo caskets are the same width from head to toe, making it a more simple design. As such, they’re usually more affordable without compromising on integrity.
For those who don’t wish to use a casket at all, a burial shroud is an option. This is a cotton burial shroud that usually has handles and ties for closure. It’s one of the most eco-friendly options, and it’s also usually the most affordable. These are also common for direct cremations because they’re so cost-effective.
Fiberboard caskets are used only for cremation since they’re not equipped for burials. This is the minimum rigid combustible container for cremation. Fiberboard is a type of building material that’s made with wood or other plant fibers condensed into wood. It’s the most affordable wooden option.
Did you know cremation caskets can also be made out of cardboard? Similar to fiberboard, this is another low-cost alternative container designed to burn easily. Many families who choose to rent a casket for the funeral opt for cardboard for the actual cremation process.
A pine box casket is an alternative container often used in green burials and cremations. This casket has no metal pieces, and it’s less expensive than more traditional wooden caskets. Because it’s more intricate and sturdy than other options on this list, it’s also used for viewings.
Last but not least, cloth-covered caskets are a unique alternative that combines many of the materials listed above. A cloth-covered casket is made with fully combustible materials. It’s created with fiberboard, pressed wood, or cardboard. From there, it’s covered with a soft cloth to create a detailed exterior and lining. A cloth-covered casket gives the appearance of being more costly without the high price tag.
Choosing the Right Cremation Casket
As you can see from the guide above, cremation is a simpler process than many people give it credit for. Though it’s a highly personal decision to decide what to do with a loved one after their time comes, it’s all about following your intuition. Many people choose cremation because it’s simpler and less expensive, especially when it comes to choosing the right cremation casket.
No matter where you’re at in your planning process, it’s important to understand what goes on behind the scenes in both burials and cremations. Knowledge truly is power, and you’re now equipped with everything you need to know to make this decision for yourself and your loved ones.
If you're looking for more information on cremation, read our tips on planning a free or cheap cremation and ways to keep your loved one's cremains at home.