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8 Things You Need to Know About Cremation Urns

Things You Need to Know About Cremation Urns

Last Updated on October 24, 2016

If you’re like most people, chances are this is the first you’ve thought about what exactly, if anything, you need to know about cremation urns. What is a cremation urn anyways? Are there any requirements for buying or using one? How do you use one? Is there anything you should be aware of?

I remember my first week working for Urns Northwest… I barely knew what cremation was, let alone any answers to questions a customer may have about the urns on our website. In the years since that first week, I’ve picked up quite a bit from quality training, handling the products, talking with others in the funeral industry, researching, interacting with customer inquiries, and  even contributing to a blog about funerals, urns, and final arrangements.

So here’s a bit of what I’ve learned – eight things you need to know about cremation urns.

1. A cremation urn is simply a container

What is a cremation urn?An urn is just a container – box, vessel, capsule, etc. – which holds the remains (also called “ashes”) after cremation. If you’re not the sentimental type, you can use a bag or a coffee can. You can make your own from wood, ceramic, or even paper mache. You can have an urn custom made from wood, ceramic, or just about any other type of material.

Our most popular urns are decorative wood boxes with woodcut art scenes of butterflies, lighthouses, country lanes, and other heartwarming themes, with our collections of hand-made ceramic urns and biodegradable eco-friendly vessels close behind. We have cultured granite and marble urns, urns made from metal, paper, sand, and even cornstarch.

There are urns which incorporate the ashes into growing a memorial tree, urns with clocks, urns shaped like turtles, cowboy hats, and golf clubs. Just about any shape, style, or design you can think of has been made into an urn.

2. You don’t have to buy a cremation urn from the funeral home

8 Things You Need to Know About Cremation UrnsYou can build your own, buy your own, buy from the funeral home, or use the “temporary urn” in which the remains will come from the crematorium. There are no regulations as to what constitutes an urn, and the only laws that exist regarding cremation urns are to ensure that funeral homes do not require or unduly press you into purchasing from them. (You can read the actual laws here.)

Since families can often easily pull up cremation urns online via their smartphones, funeral homes have generally become more competitive in their pricing, more exclusive in their product selection, or both. Funeral homes used to have a (sometimes unfair) reputation for ripping off their customers, but the accessibility of information via the internet has levelled the playing field and helped remove some of the stigma.

So if you find that the funeral home offers an urn that is perfect for you and the family at a good price, go for it. Just be aware that you are free to choose any urn from any provider.

3. You can (usually) rent an urn for the funeral service

Renting an urnThis is a great way to get the exact urn you want without having to pay big $$ for expensive overnight rush shipping. Most funeral homes have a selection of nice cremation urns which you can “rent” for use during the memorial service. For a small rental fee, you can avoid the stress and headache of trying to order an urn online, arrange expedited shipping, pay the extra expenses, and make sure that someone is around to sign for the package.

At Urns Northwest, most of our finest cremation urns take several days up to a week to produce and personalize for you. If your memorial service date is approaching, take advantage of our offer of free ground shipping and rent an urn locally. This will save you stress and money while allowing you to receive the exact urn you and your family truly want for your loved one.

4. Cremation urns made in the USA are much, much better

Made in the USAGenerally speaking, of course. There are exceptions; while we at Urns Northwest specialize in American-made urns, we also offer a few very high-quality wooden cremation urns which are made in Bolivia and imported into the States. These urns are beautifully made with incredible detail and craftsmanship at truly affordable prices.

On the flip side, the exception here in the USA is that more and more inexperienced or knock-off vendors are attempting to jump into online urn sales, so there are a few items out there which are made in America but have lower-than-expected quality.

But by and large, when you see companies or websites that have been around for a while, are well-reviewed, and offer return policies which stand behind their American-made products, the memorial you receive will be of a much higher quality than the bargain-basement import items you’ll find at major name-brand retailer websites. Check the website’s About Us page or the individual product pages to make sure that you’re getting an urn made in the USA.

5. When sizing, urn capacity, not exterior measurements, is what matters

Sizing for Cremation UrnsOne question we often receive from our customers is about the urn size. Often, the inquiry is phrased in terms of the measurements of the urn, when what they really are wanting to know is the capacity. Since many urns have decorative accents or edges, exterior dimensions (which are listed on each product page) are not the best way to figure out if the urn is the right size to hold the ashes. Urn capacity is measured in cubic inches, and most standard adult urns are about 200 cubic inches, which will hold the remains of an individual weighing roughly 200 lbs.

For more information on figuring out how many cubic inches you need, click here.

You may be looking for the inside measurements in order to insert the entire “temporary urn” that you received from the funeral home. Since our urns are designed to hold the same capacity as one of those temporary urns, they generally won’t fit inside a standard cremation urn. However, we do have a selection of urns which are intended to hold the temporary urns… just be sure to check the interior dimensions listed on the product pages to ensure that the temporary plastic or cardboard urn.

6. Exterior measurements generally only matter for placement

8 Things You Need to Know About Cremation UrnsThe exterior measurements can be important depending on usage. If an urn is going to be placed into a columbarium niche, then you will definitely want to make sure that the outside dimensions of memorial urn will fit into the opening.

Or perhaps you would like an urn that fits onto a mantle or shelf, or some other specific location. In these cases, and also just for the sake of having an idea of the physical size of the item you are going to receive, it is helpful to know the exterior dimensions.

The important thing to remember is this: Unless you have a particular placement in mind for the urn, you do not need to worry about the exterior dimensions of the memorial. The capacity of the urn is the determining factor for sizing.

7. Purchasing a cremation urn pre-need is a smart thing to do

Pre Need Planning for CremationThere are many advantages to purchasing an urn before you actually need it. If it’s for yourself, you can pick out exactly the one you want while helping your family to avoid the stress of an extra decision and item on their to-do list for arranging the funeral. If it’s for a family member who will be passing soon, purchasing the urn in advance allows them to participate in the selection process if they so choose, and also keeps you from having one more thing to take care of in the days after they depart this world.

Even if you or your loved ones are not planning on dying anytime soon, it is still advantageous to get the cremation urn pre-need. You can easily and safely store the urn in the box in which it comes (our urns are always shipped in well-protected packaging), or, if you’re going with a designer ceramic or wood art urn, you can add the piece to your home decor.

You’ll also save some cash when ordering the urn in advance. Instead of paying the ever-increasing rush shipping costs to get an urn in the days following a death in the family, you can generally get free standard ground shipping and the funeral urn will arrive at your door within a few weeks. This saves you from plenty of headaches, stress, additional choices, and excessive shipping charges.

8. The funeral home will transfer the remains for you

Funeral directors will help you transfer the remainsDespite the aforementioned stigma sometimes associated with funeral homes, most are really quite nice. Part of their service involves taking care of the remains for you. And since the law requires them to use any container you choose, they will transfer the remains into the cremation urn of your choice.

But sometimes, if you decide to order an urn online and it shows up a few weeks after everything is done, the funeral home or crematorium will give you the remains in an inexpensive cardboard or plastic box, known as a temporary urn. If you’re uncomfortable transfering the ashes into the permanent urn yourself, you can bring both the temporary and permanent urns to the funeral director and they or their staff will usually complete the transfer in a few minutes without a problem.

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68 thoughts on “8 Things You Need to Know About Cremation Urns

  1. […] 8 Things You Need to Know About Cremation Urns […]

  2. You answered every question I had about urns….now I can make my own with out worry. Thank you so much..

  3. Is a new metal Urn look new on inside too? Or is it rough looking?

  4. Hi Deeann,

    Great question! Most metal urns are a little rougher-looking on the inside, because they are not finished.


  5. Can a glass container be used or does it have to be wood

  6. Hi Liz,

    Yes, you can use glass. Anything from a mason jar to a hand-blown glass urn will work. Thanks!

  7. I cannot fit the bag of remains into the round hole at the bottom of the urn. Any suggestions? Thank you so much!

  8. Hi Phyllis,

    It’s different for each situation. One suggestion might be to get a different plastic bag, set it inside the urn, then pour from the original into the new one.

    I hope this helps!

    Thank you,

  9. I plan to be cremated when my time comes. I want an urn shaped like a cat. Kind of like the ancient Egyptians would use. Do you sell something like that or know where I can find one?

  10. Hi Tammy,

    Here you go:

    It’s smaller, so you’ll probably have to plan for either getting a few urns and perhaps splitting them up among family. You can also scatter or have remains planted to grow a tree.

    I hope this helps!

  11. My wife passed away a little while ago, we have a wish that when my time comes, my ashes are to be mixed with hers. Are there urns big enough to accommodate all the ashes of 2 people?

  12. Hi Tony,

    Yes, there are urns large enough to hold the ashes of two people. They’re called “Companion Urns” and you can see our collection at the link.

    Thank you,

  13. How long can I keep the ashes in the plastic container the funeral home put them in? Will something happen to them?

  14. You should be able to keep them in the temporary urn as long as you like. The urn may not be too durable or attractive but should fill the need until you find what you want to use for a more permanent memorial.

  15. My mom wants to have her creamated ashes put in a urn then buried in the grave with my brother who passed years ago. Will I need to put the urn inside of another container such as a vault?

  16. Are all urns black on the inside? Can I paint the urn white on the inside?

  17. Yes! You can definitely paint the inside of an urn if you like. Most urns have an inside that is unfinished and similar in color to the exterior.

  18. Hi Sharon,

    You’ll need to check with the cemetery about that, but most likely they will require a vault.

  19. I didn’t realize that sizing the exterior measurements of an urn could be misleading. I guess it makes sense that the capacity could vary quite a bit from the dimensions if the shape is a little different. My grandmother has asked that she be cremated when she passes, so we have been looking into finding the right urn for her. I will have to keep this in mind so I make sure to get the right size.

  20. Once buried, will the temporary urn deteriorate?

  21. Thanks for the question, Lisa! If the temporary urn is plastic, it will take a long, long time to deteriorate. If it’s cardboard, then yes, it will decompose somewhat quickly.

  22. Do wooden urns deteriorate in the sea? I plan to buy a beautiful cherry wood urn for my grandfather’s burial in the sea but I’m concerned that it will float to the top.

  23. Hi Nia,

    Yes, wooden urns will deteriorate in the ocean. It will take longer than a paper-based biodegradable urn, but it will definitely biodegrade. Add some weights if you’re concerned about it floating, or drill holes in the wooden urn and use a biodegradable plastic bag to hold the remains.

  24. Thank you…You answered every question I was wondering about…that was very helpful!

  25. Are the urns and boxes sealed in any way?

  26. Sometimes, but generally no. This is because the cremated remains (or “ashes”) come from the crematorium in a plastic bag inside of a plastic/cardboard box. If you keep the remains inside the plastic bag, you do not need to seal the urn.

    Wood and metal urns typically have a removeable bottom panel, which opens with screws. No need for sealant when using the plastic bag. Some stone and metal urns have threaded stoppers, which usually include a gasket. Ceramic and glass urns have lids, and the remains are often poured inside. For these, sealant is optional, usually a silicone based sealant. I hope this helps!

  27. Are the temporary urns safe for shipping? I need to send cremains via usps and they ask the container be “sift-proof”.

  28. Someone else asked about having an urn buried and if that would require putting it another container such as a vault. You told her it probably would but to check with the cemetery. What exactly is involved in this vault container ?

  29. Hi Nancy,

    Yes, the temporary urns are typically safe for shipping. Take it in to USPS and they will have the appropriate label for shipping cremated remains.

    Thank you!

  30. Hi Jean, excellent question. Here is everything you need to know about burial vaults:

  31. Do you sell or could you recommend a fireproof urn I can’t find any information
    Angela Griffith

  32. Hi Angela,

    Thanks for asking! Unfortunately very few things are fireproof; your best options for a heat-resistant urn would be:
    1) Metal
    2) Ceramic
    Fire will damage just about any cremation urn, but I would choose one of those two materials as best suited to withstand fire damage.

    Thanks again!

  33. Hello,
    My husband was cremated last year and I have his remains in a wooden container as the funeral director told me I could not fly with it if it was in a metal container.
    Now I want to take my husband’s remains back to be buried with my daughter who passed years ago. I was wondering if I need a cement container or something else to put the wooden box in and if so, where would I get it.
    Thank you for your help.

  34. Hi Mary,

    The product you are talking about is called a vault, specifically a cremation urn vault. We offer an affordable selection of urn vaults here.

    In general terms, you don’t need a vault to bury your urn; however, many cemeteries require it to maintain the integrity of the landscape. In other words, a vault helps make it so that that ground doesn’t cave in as the urn deteriorates over time. If the cemetery requires it, or if you want to protect and preserve the ground as much as possible, then you will probably want an urn vault. If you don’t mind a bit of ground sinking over time and if the cemetery allows it, then you do not need one.

    You can read more information about vaults and how/when to use them here.

    I hope this helps!

  35. I am planning my service now and have one question: We have my son’s urn , we have spread his
    ash’s and the urn is empty I would like to use his urn for more ash’s for my memorial service is
    that allowed? Please answer by email.

  36. Hi Kathy,

    I’ll reply via email but post it here so others can see as well. Yes, you can use the urn in any way you like. Many people prefer an urn to be used only for one person, but the idea of using the same urn for close family members definitely has an appeal.

  37. Does the container that your putting the ashes need to be air tight?

  38. Hi Mary,

    No, the container does not have to be airtight. It is ideal to place (or keep, since the remains come like this) the remains in a plastic bag which will ensure that they do not spill out of the container. Hope this helps!

  39. My husband’s ashes are in a box within a box. The outer box holds memorabilia like his ring, picture, cross, etc. It will be going in a vault at the cemetery. Should I bury both boxes, or could I keep the outer box with the memories in it? It is a beautiful polished wood box, but I don’t mind burying it if that is the right thing to do.

  40. Hi Christena,

    Sounds like you have a beautiful memorial planned. It’s ultimately up to you, but since the remains are already contained within a box you may prefer keeping the outer box as a memory chest. But again, it is up to you!

  41. My Mom’s urn was returned to us by the crematorium completely sealed. No silicone seal, no plug, twist-off lid. Nothing! Is this normal?

  42. Hi Robert,

    Yes, the crematorium or funeral home will typically seal the urn. How to open it will depend on what type of urn it is – wood, metal, ceramic, etc. Since there are so many types of urns with different designs and opening styles, the best way to find an answer is to contact the crematorium and ask them. Hope this helps!

  43. My Dad died 4 years ago and Mom died many years ago, so it was up to my sister and I to figure things out. I did discover that Costco, Sam’s, Walmart all sell caskets and urns. We bought Dad’s urn online at Costco. We did not pay an arm an leg. It was so much more reasonable and is gorgeous. Has solid wood with an inlay of praying hands on the side and on the top is an inlay of a cross. We were very pleased. The laws are funny about mailing to some states. I had to recieve it here in Colorado, then ship it to my sister in Minnesota. That is where they live and where he was buried.
    Thank you for your helpful information. We have used this funeral home a few times, yet he still wanted to charge us way too much for an urn and we are glad we did not go through him. We had a “celebration of life” for Dad at his elder living apartment party room. It was nice.

  44. I found a beautiful all pewter urn at a reasonable price, right dimensions, and size. My question is, it says it is for pets! It looks similar to the human urns, but is considerably cheaper. Is this wrong to even consider for my miscarried grandbaby? Is there any differences I should know about?

  45. Hi Lisa,

    There is absolutely no difference between a “pet” urn and a child/human urn. Many times the exact same product is listed twice, once as a pet urn and a second time as a keepsake urn, a small urn, or a child urn. Physically, urns are simply containers of various sizes for the ashes. Pet urns are actually ideal for use as a small-sized human urn because they are typically less expensive (though be careful, because sometimes the cheaper products are made from cheaper materials or less quality construction).

    So to sum up, as long as the “pet” urn doesn’t have, say, a paw print on it, you can totally use it as an urn for human ashes. It’s just the marketing name. So I say, if you’ve found the perfect pewter urn, go for it! Glad you found something affordable that you like for your beloved grandbaby.

  46. I’m looking for an urn that is made from a motorcycle engine cylinder. I did find one I liked online, but the company that had them has quit carrying them. I used to see quite a few different kinds of them but now I can’t find any. Advice/Suggestions?

  47. I’ve been looking for a double urn that both my ashes and my husbands ashes can go in together but one internal compartment ,do you know where I could get one made

  48. Hi Angela,

    Thanks for asking! We offer quite a few companion urns that have a one internal compartment:

    I hope this helps! Please contact us at 877-900-5309 if you have questions about specific urns.

    Thank you!

  49. Hi Wayne,

    We have two motorcycle engine urns:

    Hope this helps, thanks!

  50. Hello, im unsure if I want to be burried or cremated. I feel like if im put in ground I will be forgotten over the years. People will get to busy to stop and visit me. So cremation will probably be the way I go. Im a huge fan of the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. Do you have any College urns? Thank you.

  51. Hi Jen,
    No, we don’t have any Kentucky Wildcats or other college-themed urns. You’d need to contact them to ask permission to reproduce their logo, since it is under copyright. Thanks for your comment!

  52. What great information! In reading some of the Q and A you are very informative Thank you so much!

  53. are loved ones allowed to view the transfer of ashes from temporary urn to permanent urn?

    also i’ve run into a problem with the furneral home, i asked the ashes to be place into 2 separate urns, one for burial and the other for keepsake at home, but all the ashes were placed into the burial urn.
    Can you suggest how to proceed with correcting this error?

  54. Hi Jeff,

    Yes, you should be allowed to view the transfer of ashes if you want. Just ask the funeral director. You can also transfer the remains into the urn yourself.

    If all of the remains have been placed into one urn, it’s fairly simple to transfer a portion into another urn. Get a plastic bag to hold the remains you are putting into the new urn. Then open the first urn and carefully pour or scoop some of the remains into the new plastic bag, which you can then place into the second urn. We have an article and several videos discussing how to open and fill urns here:

  55. thanks for replying, i did watch the video, unfortunately the ashes were placed in a bronze urn with a snap lock lid. the urn would be too damaged to repair/reuse for burial.
    unlike other cremations i viewed, i was allowed to watch the transfer of the ashes, so i thought it was odd this funeral home did not, but found out after the fact, its their policy.

  56. I am a retire truck driver and would like a thermos bottle for my ashes. Is there any law that will prevent this. Thank you for any help in doing this . Gene Stone Sr., 40 years over the road .Gene

  57. Hi Gene,

    No, there is no law against using a thermos bottle. You can use any container you like. If the thermos is going to go into a niche or be buried at a cemetery, you might need to clear it with them. But if the remains will be kept at home, a thermos is perfectly fine.

  58. Great Questions and Answer section. I have learned quite a lot. Thank you.
    I saw a few questions and answers about the type of “urn” including a thermos. Then is it safe to assume that any vessel will do? I have an old favorite froggy cookie jar with an air tight seal around the top. Everyone knows that I love my frog collection and knows me to be a bit silly and whimsical. So this would not be a shock or surprise to them. Will this frog cookie jar be acceptable?

  59. Hi Dawn,
    Yes, absolutely! You can definitely use your froggy cookie jar. Even if it seals pretty well, I’d still recommend using a plastic bag to secure the remains inside whatever vessel you use. But with that extra step of precaution (sealing the remains in a plastic bag – a ziploc would do fine) you should be able to use just about any vessel or container you like!

  60. I’ve had my mom’s ashes in the box for almost 4 years. Finally ready to spread some and keep some. I have a beautiful butterfly vase she gave to me years ago I would like to put some in; however, it has no top. Is that appropriate?

  61. Hi Brenda,

    Yes, you can absolutely use the vase she gave you! I’d suggest that you place the remains into a plastic bag first to secure the remains, especially since it doesn’t have a top/lid. Hope this helps. Thanks!

  62. my husband passed 5 years ago, he was cremated, we chose to spread his ashes. when I pass can they use his cremation box for my ashes too and simply date my passing as well on his wooden box?

  63. Hi Brenda,

    Great question! Yes, you can definitely have your family use the same urn! I think that’s a brilliant idea, a way to “upcycle” the urn. It will save you the cost of purchasing a second urn, plus it has tremendous meaning – you and your husband get to share one more special thing, even after passing. Then your family can use it as a keepsake box if they wish. Thanks for your comment!

  64. My husband recently passed away. I chose a brass memorial urn to keep him at home with me. Is it ok to put his ashes directly into the urn or does it need to be in a sealed bag? The urn is vase shape with a twist on top.

  65. Hi Kylee,

    Good question! Either way is fine for that type of urn. If you keep the ashes in a plastic bag, you won’t need to seal the lid to the urn, and if for some reason you ever needed to remove the remains, the entire bag should be able to come out. But you can also pour the remains directly into the urn. Hope this helps!

  66. After looking at many types of urns, my relative asked me to turn one from Maple Wood. He was delighted with the result.
    Maybe there are others who would prefer the natural effect of a wooden designed urn.

  67. HI, My Dad passed away in feb we had a cremation. I am now looking to make a biodegradable urn to set out into the sea. can you please give me any information on how i can make this a beautiful send off.
    Thank you

  68. Hi Sharon, if you’re looking to make your own biodegradable water burial urn, you might consider paper mache. Do a web search for DIY paper mache, and shape it into a container roughly the size of the urn you have now. Hope this helps!

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