How does the cremation process work in the UK?

How does the cremation process work in the UK? main image

Although almost 80% of the UK prefer cremation over burial, little is known about the cremation process. Myths surrounding multiple cremations and recycled coffins are all common place, however the truth about cremation is somewhat different. The reality is that the UK cremation process is highly regulated, controlled and respectful.

The following information explains all you need to know about the process and answers those niggling questions people think about but are often afraid to ask.

Afterall, regardless of whether you’re arranging a funeral or putting funeral plans in place for the future, if cremation is a consideration, it’s got to be reassuring to know what really happens.

What happens at a cremation?

A cremation typically begins with a funeral service, unless it’s an unattended cremation. The cremation process then takes place transforming the body to ashes, which are predominantly fragments of bone. At this point the ashes can either be returned to the family or scattered on the garden of remembrance.

How long is a cremation service?

The length of a cremation service is usually around 30 minutes however this depends on the crematorium. This can normally be shortened or extended if you prefer, perhaps to allow for more speakers or longer readings. However longer cremation services will typically cost more than a regular length service. 

How soon after the funeral serve does the cremation take place?

The cremation usually takes place shortly after the funeral service. If for any reason it can’t take place on the day the coffin is received by the crematorium, written consent must be given by the cremation applicant or cremation authority. The cremation will then go ahead the following morning.

What is the cremation process?

The cremation process takes place in a specifically designed furnace called a cremator or cremation chamber. Intense heat reduces the body to ashes which are cooled and any metal objects removed. To complete the process, the ashes are ground into a fine powder and placed in a container or urn.

To ensure the correct ashes are returned to family, the whole process is tracked from start to finish. Prior to the cremation the name plate is checked against the order form. An identification card is then produced which remains with the body until the ashes are released.

How long does it take to cremate a body?

It typically takes between one to three hours to cremate a body. However, cremation time will depend on the size and weight of the person being cremated, the type of coffin and the temperature of the cremator. Time is then taken to prepare the ashes for release to the family.

What happens to the body during the cremation process?

During the process the body is exposed to intense heat which vaporizes organic matter and incinerates the bones down to ashes. A magnet is then used to remove metal objects like jewellery, implants and dental fillings. Medical devices like pacemakers are removed prior to cremation as they could explode.  

How is the body prepared for cremation?

To prepare for cremation, the funeral director washes and dresses the body. Families can choose the clothes they’d like the deceased to wear and place sentimental items like books, letters, flowers or photos into the coffin. It’s advisable that jewellery is removed as this will burn during the cremation.

What happens to the coffin?

During the cremation process the coffin is placed into the cremator and cremated along with the body. This means the coffin is always burnt and therefore never reused. In fact, UK regulation stipulates that a coffin cannot be opened once it has arrived at the crematorium.

Do you have to have a coffin?

There is no legal requirement to have a coffin for cremation however it depends on the crematorium. Many crematoria prefer coffins as they are easier to place in the cremator. However, some may accept alternatives such as wicker or cardboard coffins or shrouds.

Are UK cremations done individually?

As detailed in the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities ‘Code of Cremation Practice’, all cremations in the UK are done separately. In fact, cremators are designed to only allow one coffin at a time, so crematoriums can only carry out multiple cremations if they have more than one cremator.  

The only exception to this is in the event of the death of a mother and baby or small twins but only if the family have requested that they are cremated together in a single coffin.

When do I get the ashes?

Ashes are usually available for collection either the day after, or within a few days of the cremation. They can either be collected at the crematorium or the funeral directors by the person named on the cremation paperwork, or the funeral director themselves.

Other frequently asked questions about the cremation process?

Can you view the body before cremation?

You can usually view the deceased prior to cremation in the chapel of rest but you would need to check this with your funeral director. However, viewing is not usually allowed for direct cremation although you may be able to attend the committal.

Can relatives witness the cremation process?

Most crematoriums allow relatives to witness the cremation process however this would need to be arranged beforehand with the crematorium and the funeral director.

Do you have clothes on when you are cremated?

The deceased is usually clothed when being cremated. This can either be in the clothes they passed away in or ones chosen by the family specifically for the cremation.

What happens to jewellery and metal implants during the cremation process?

Jewellery and metal objects such as implants and dental fillings are cremated along with the body. Once the cremation has taken place, the remains of the metal objects are removed with a magnet and sent for recycling.

Therefore, if the jewellery is of sentimental value and something you would like to keep, it’s important to ask the funeral director to remove it prior to the cremation process.

Do cremation ashes get mixed together?

Ashes do not get mixed together as all cremations in the UK are carried out individually.

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