10 Questions to Ask When Buying A Cremation Urn

Last Updated on January 22, 2021

Quite often the problem people have when buying a cremation urn is that it is their first time. They are not even sure what questions to ask, and often the answers just add to the confusion.

  • How can I tell what size urn to get?
  • What kind of urn can I bury?
  • Will the ashes (remains) leak out?
  • How does the urn seal?

These are just a few of the questions people have about the cremation urn itself. Let’s try to demystify the process some with some general information, then we’ll close with 10 questions you should ask when buying an urn.

4 Helpful Tips About Urns

1. Urn Size

Beginner's Guide to Cremation Urns

Like this urn? Click here to buy

First, the rule of thumb is that you will need a 200 cubic inch cremation urn for an adult. This is based on 1 pound per cubic inch (c.i.) – this is based on the person’s healthy weight. This is the hard part to explain, but it has to do with the person’s bone structure and not that of the flesh. Cremated remains are made up of the remaining bone fragments.

Read more: What size urn should I get?

Other sizes of urns are available. Keepsake urns are a type of urn that is designed to keep a small portion of the cremains only. The sizes vary on keepsake urns from a pinch to 50 c.i. or more. A child urn typically will range from 30 c.i. to 150 c.i. and again the size needed varies on the size of the child. (I really hate even discussing this and I hope this does not come across offensive.) Infant urns are usually smaller than the 50 c.i. size.

Scattering urns are used in the case that you want the urn to open fairly easily for scattering and can also be kept after as a memorial. Often we are asked to engrave the scattering urns for keeping. Again, this is a choice. You can even keep a portion of the ashes as well and seal the scattering urn.

2. Urn Material

What type of material is best for cremation urns?

Like this urn? Click here to buy

Second, the material of the urn is your choice. Wood will decay faster if buried, but that is where a burial vault plays a part of protecting the urn. Most wood urns are kept either in a niche or the home of a relative. Glass, ceramic, stone, and many other materials are also used and have their advantages or disadvantages depending on where you plan on keeping them.

3. Traveling with an Urn

Travel with a Cremation Urn

CLICK HERE for our Fabric Urns collection, designed for elegance in air travel

Third, the latest that the FAA had put out on bringing an urn on a plane is that it has to be able to be x-rayed or it must be open already. They will not open it or allow you to open one there.

Now the rules may change so always check before buying an urn if you plan on taking it on a flight. Wood urns can be ran through the x-ray machine. Check the FAA website for more.

More: Which cremation urns are suitable for air travel?

4. Sealing an Urn

Opening and Sealing a Cremation Urn


When it comes to the cremated remains leaking out or sealing an urn, it will depend, again, on the urn you choose. First off, cremated remains are normally in a thick plastic bag. This bag can be placed into most wood urn which have screws that hold a bottom piece on.

Other cremation urns have a port that is held by screws which the cremains will have to be poured into. With wood urns you can add glue or a sealant before putting the screws in, but in most cases that isn’t necessary. Some other material urns will be similar to wood urns and others, such as a vase, will have to have the top sealed with a sealant.

More: How to open an urn (video demonstrations and tips)

Now that you know some basics about cremation urns, let’s look at the questions you should be asking as you shop for the perfect memorial.

10 Questions to Ask When Buying a Cremation Urn

1. What size is the urn?

Cremation containers vary widely in size, due to shape and design features. When buying a cremation urn, be sure to consider the size in relation to how it will be used.

If you are placing the urn in a niche in a columbarium, you will definitely need to make sure it will fit into the niche.

For those who plan on displaying the memorial in the home, think about where you would like it to be placed and pay attention to the measurements accordingly.

2. How much does the urn hold?

Cremation urns vary in the volume of cremains (cremated remains) they can hold, depending on the purpose and style of the cremation box. For an average adult, the industry standard is 200 cubic inches (figure 1 cubic inch = 1 lbs. of the individual’s healthy body weight), and for a companion urn (meant for two individuals, usually a husband and wife) the standard is 400 cubic inches. When purchasing for an infant, child, pet, or large or small individual, be sure to calculate what size you need.

Wood Companion Urn in Walnut

3. What material is the urn?

When buying a cremation urn, choose the material of the item depending on what you intend to do with the individual’s ashes.

If you are scattering, a biodegradable urn is often an affordable and eco-friendly choice. Alternatively, if you are burying the container, decide whether you would like to have the urn preserved as long as possible (in which case we recommend a metal or ceramic urn enclosed in a burial vault), or if you would like the individual’s remains to be quickly joined with the earth (in which case we recommend a wood urn, such as one of our eco-friendly bamboo urns).

If you plan on keeping and displaying the urn, as an heirloom memorial, select a beautifully crafted urn with a personal inscription or a gorgeous scene which reminds you of the departed loved one.

4. When will the urn ship?

While many online retailers keep urns in stock and ready to ship, other more intricate products need to be built to order. The ship-from location is important to note, and even if a company’s headquarters is in one state they may have multiple distribution centers.

Also plan according to the time of day you are ordering – even if the item is in stock, it may actually ship the next business day if the order is processed after the company’s daily shipment.

If in doubt, or if you need it by a specific date, call.

5. Is it made in the USA, or is it an import?

When buying a cremation urn, make sure you check out where it was made and how others reviewed the item. Often imports can be cheaper imitations of domestically produced products. Be sure to not be fooled by a cheap import! However, many quality urns are made elsewhere and imported, and can be comparable in quality while more affordable in cost.

6. Do I need to travel with the remains?

If you need to travel by air with cremated remains, you must use a cremation container that can be scanned by the airport’s security systems. Most wood and ceramic urns can be scanned, and we carry a line of plastic silk-covered urns which are TSA approved. Metal and stone/granite urns cannot pass through the security systems. See here for more information.

7. How can I personalize the urn?

Some cremation urns can have an engraved metal plate affixed, while others can be laser engraved directly onto the surface of the urn. There are many cremation urn appliques with a variety of themes and styles (U.S. Air Force, fishing, lovebirds, etc.) – just be sure there is enough of a flat surface on the urn for the applique to fit! Also, some urns can even be engraved with a photograph of your loved one.

8. How are the remains put into the container?

Most wood cremation urns have a bottom or back opening panel which is attached with screws. Metal and stone/granite urns will often have a threaded stopper through which the remains are poured into the interior. Many ceramic cremation vases have a removable lid. Once you place the ashes into the container (if you are not comfortable doing this, ask the funeral home), you can optionally add some sort of sealant to secure the lid or panel.

9. Can I get a matching keepsake?

Or… Do I want a matching keepsake?

To bury, scatter, or place the remains in a niche, you will use a standard sized urn. But what if you would like to keep a small portion of the cremated ashes, as a keepsake? Many standard sized urns are also made in a smaller “keepsake size” for this exact purpose. With a keepsake urn, you keep a small amount of remains as a remembrance token.

Other times one family member will keep the urn while several other family members get matching keepsakes. Most websites will list whether or not a particular item has a matching keepsake.

10. Can I return the urn?

When buying a cremation urn, be sure to check each website’s return policies. At Urns Northwest, as with many other leading cremation urn websites, you can return all non-personalized items within 30 days for a full refund. We cannot refund expedited shipping charges.

Please contact us if you have any of these questions (or others) about our products – we will be happy to help!

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