How to Open an Urn

There are several reasons why you may need to know how to open an urn.

Maybe your family is wanting to use a different urn for your loved one’s ashes. Or perhaps you are hoping to scatter the cremated remains, or share them among family members. Or maybe, you just want to know how to open an urn, just to know how!

Whatever the case may be, opening an urn is not as complicated as you may think, so let’s take a close look at how with a little help from my friends at Urns Northwest.

Opening Cremation Urns

Most urns that you can purchase are crafted from high-quality materials, such as wood, ceramic, stone, glass, or metal. But how exactly do you open them?

In this article, I’ll be sharing several helpful videos, featuring different types of urns, to get you started.

Wooden Urns

Let’s start with wood urns. To help you figure out how to open a standard wood urn box, Shawn Oliveria, founder and owner of Urns Northwest with over 25 years of experience in the urn industry, has made a short video demonstrating how to do so.

YouTube video

Opening an Urn Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Identify the Location of the Screws: Generally, there are four screws located at the base of the urn.
  2. Unscrew the Screws: Place the urn on a clean, flat surface that won’t scratch the urn. You can use an electric or manual screwdriver for this step.
  3. Gently Lift the Base: To help identify how to place the base back onto the urn, mark a small dot by one of the screw holes. That way, you know which nail goes into which hole.
  4. Place Base Back Onto the Urn: Gently screw the nails back down through the base just until you can see them. Then, align the base properly back onto the urn. Screw down each nail one by one until the base is firmly drilled back to the urn.

There are a few exceptions to this, of course. Most of the urns that are different will go into more detail on the product page.

Oliveria notes that some urns are designed with smaller openings, and with others, the top is hinged. Certain cremation urn styles feature a lid, a gasket, a plug, a threaded lid, or other variations of these.

Here are some of the main urn openings:

Ever since making and posting this video years ago, it’s received thousands of views, both on Urns Northwest and on their YouTube channel. Since then, they’ve made several more videos showing how to open and fill a variety of styles and designs of cremation urns.

Let’s take a further look.

Companion Urns

YouTube video

Companion Urn Opening Guide:

  1. Gently position the urn upside-down. Be sure the urn is secure so as not to scratch the topside.
  2. Locate the screws at the base of the urn. Unscrew them and set aside. Either a Phillips or electric screwdriver should work just fine; no additional tools are needed.
  3. Gently lift the lid to access the inner compartment. You may notice a divider panel included therein. Not all companion urns come with a divider, but many do.
  4. Return the base and align the screws. Carefully re-screw the screws, until they are snug. Gently position the urn right-side-up again.

As you may have noticed, most wooden companion urns open the same way as the standard urns, with a bottom-opening panel. You put the ashes into the urn the same way as well.

The only difference is that you can place each set of cremated remains into the urn in their separate plastic bags, or you can choose to combine or “commingle” the ashes into a single protective bag.

Most of Northwest Urns’ wood companion urns include a divider, which you can remove or keep in place as needed.

Stone Urns

YouTube video

Stone Urn Opening Guide:

  1. Carefully position the urn onto its side. Stone urns are particularly heavy, so be very gentle when moving them.
  2. Notice the threaded plug (or stopper) located in the center of the base. While holding the urn securely, gently twist open the plug. With the plug removed, you have access to the inside.
  3. Twist the threaded plug back into place to close the urn again. While the plug should be tight, for extra protection you may also choose to apply plumber’s tape, beeswax, or silicone caulk to the plug before twisting it back on.

Stone urns, including marble urns, granite, onyx, and other types of materials, often open from the bottom with a threaded plug or stopper. Once you remove the plug to reveal the opening, you can pour the remains directly into the urn. If the opening is small, you may use a funnel, even a paper one, for ease of pouring the cremated remains.

Typically your urn’s stopper or plug will have a gasket (similar to a washer), or some other feature to help it stay sealed and secure. Again, if not, or if you are concerned about it, you can always put a bead of silicone caulk or similar product on the threads when you replace the stopper after filling the urn.

Oliveria does not recommend using glue or other heavy-duty sealants, because there are the occasional rare circumstances where the family would like to access the remains.

These circumstances may include wanting to scatter or keep the ashes, share some among family members, choose a different urn, or replace it due to damage done to the urn.

Such incidents are very rare, but if you ever have the need to open an urn after it has been sealed, you will appreciate when caulk is used as opposed to super glue.

Glass Cremation Urn

YouTube video

Sealing a Glass Urn Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Carefully remove the glass lid from the body of the urn. Holding the lid in your hand, turn it over to access the underside.
  2. Squeeze a thin bead (or circular application) of silicone around the rim of the underlid. You can find silicone tubes at most hardware or craft supply stores.
  3. Gently return the glass lid back onto the urn. Your glass urn is now securely sealed.

In the case of a glass cremation urn, the question of how to open it is pretty self explanatory; the top comes off. So the question most people have is How do I seal the lid on the urn after it is filled?

The video above will show you how to add a small bead of silicone to seal the urn.

As explained above regarding the threaded stoppers in stone urns, Urns Northwest doesn’t recommend sealing a glass or ceramic urn with super glue or some other heavy-duty sealant.

Silicone does the job, and you will be grateful if you ever need to access the urn for any reason in the future.

Biodegradable Cremation Urns

YouTube video
YouTube video

Biodegradable Urn Opening Guide:

  1. Set the urn upright. Securely hold the bottom of the urn as you gently slide off the top. It may feel a little bit like thick paper, so be careful not to dent the sides as you pull off the top.
  2. Notice the opening at the top of the urn. Place the biodegradable plastic bag into the opening, but leave the top of the bag open.
  3. Carefully pour the cremated remains into the bag. Twist the bag at the top and push down into the urn. The nature of the biodegradable plastic bag ensures that when twisted, it will securely seal the remains therein.
  4. Replace the lid back onto the urn.

Biodegradable urns can be used in a variety of ways. Most people use them for scattering ashes over the ocean; instead of tossing the ashes into the air, you can drop the urn directly into the ocean and not worry about a breeze sending the remains into everyone’s faces.

So water scattering urns are designed to float briefly while you say your goodbyes, then gracefully sink to the ocean floor to biodegrade and send your loved one’s ashes into the seven seas.

Many earth-conscious families also choose biodegradable urns for scattering when pouring out the remains of their family member.

As laws permit, sometimes this is at sea, other times into a river or lake, and still other times the scattering happens on a mountain, national forest, favorite park, or even in your backyard.

With a scattering urn like the “tube” urns in the video above, you have the option to bury or recycle the urn after use. This provides you with an attractive urn for the funeral, memorial service, or scattering ceremony, while minimizing the impact on the environment.

Small Keepsake Urns

YouTube video

Small, Keepsake Urn Opening Guide:

  1. Gently turn over the keepsake urn and locate the screws holding on the base (bottom panel).
  2. Carefully unscrew each screw and set it to the side. For a small urn, a Phillips screwdriver or smaller tool may be required to remove the screws.
  3. Keep an eye on the orientation of the base panel. Some small urns, like the one portrayed in the video above from Urns Northwest, will have a mark under the back panel indicating where to position it back into place.
  4. Gently tilt the urn to remove the small vessel. This is where the ashes will be placed. The model of the keepsake urn portrayed in the video will hold one cubic inch of remains, and most other similar capacity urns will hold about the same.
  5. Close and return the vessel back into place. Note the indicator to correctly replace the back panel of the urn.
  6. Carefully position and re-attach the screws into the base of the urn. Gently place the urn right-side-up.

Keepsake urns are small memorials designed to hold just a portion of the cremation ashes. They may be available in different sizes. Many families choose to retain a small amount of the remains as a “keepsake” when burying or scattering the bulk of the ashes, or to share among close family.

Each keepsake will open a little differently depending on the material and style. However, most open just like their full-size counterparts. For instance, most ceramic and metal vase-shaped urns have a lid, most stone urns have a stopper or gasket, etc.

The keepsake urn shown in the video above is a little different because the front features an intricate inlay scene, but the urn itself is only intended for a tiny portion of the remains. Thus the unique opening and the small vessel hidden behind the back panel.

FAQs on Opening & Sealing Urns

Do I Need to Mail Ashes to Fill the Urn?

No, it is not necessary to mail the ashes to the urn manufacturer. When you order a cremation urn, Urns Northwest (or any other urn company) will send you the empty urn. Fill it as per the instructions above. If you would like assistance, a funeral director will be happy to do this for you.

The only exception to this is when you have a specially crafted memorial made from ashes. If the artist is going to incorporate the cremated remains into the memorial piece itself, then they will require you to send the ashes (often just a portion) to them.

Can You Open an Urn Once It’s Sealed?

Yes, you can. As long as super glue or another permanent form of sealant has not been previously used to close the opening, you can generally open any urn with relative ease.

You may have heard elsewhere that you can try opening a sealed urn with fingernail polish remover, or another strong solvent using a cotton swab. If you are having trouble opening an urn, I advise you to first seek guidance from a funeral director, lest you risk damaging the urn with harsh chemicals.

How Long Do Cremated Ashes Last in an Urn?

Cremated remains can technically last forever. Because ashes are inorganic, it takes an awfully long time for them to break down. Cradled within the urn, you can rest assured that your loved one’s remains will be safe and secure for many, many years, and then some.

How Do You Open a Plastic Temporary Cremation Container?

The plastic temporary cremation containers that are supplied by the crematory following your loved one’s cremation are relatively straightforward to open. They are usually rectangle, and open on one end. More often than not, it can take a little elbow grease. Again, if you need help opening a temporary urn, simply contact the funeral director, who will be happy to assist you.

How Do You Get Ashes Out of the Urn?

To remove ashes from a cremation urn, you will first have to open the urn (see demonstration videos above). Once open, you will find inside the urn a clear plastic bag filled with the cremated remains. (Here’s what the ashes will look like.)

Gently pull out this bag; it should be tied off at the top with a zip tie, and it most likely has an accompanying tag. The number on this tag was assigned by the crematory or funeral home to your loved one prior to cremation for identification; it stayed with your loved one through the process of cremation, as well as transferal into the plastic bag. It is a good idea to keep this tag with your loved one’s cremated remains.

If no plastic bag is present, and the ashes are simply sitting in the urn, a small plastic or paper funnel may be utilized to carefully pour the ashes from the urn into the new urn or a separate receptacle. You can wear gloves for this part if you like.
I would like to gently stress this: do not worry if you accidentally spill a little bit of ashes during the transfer process. They are inorganic; you can lovingly brush them with your hand back into the plastic bag, and simply wipe away the leftover dust. It’s just something that can happen, and not something you need to feel bad about.

Did this article help you figure out how to open the urn? I hope so! If you have any questions or comments, or remember a time when you had to open an urn, feel free to share below.

Read Next: Common Cremation Myths Answered

how to open an urn - pin it image

27 thoughts on “How to Open an Urn”

  1. I would like to know how to open a ceramic/ginger jar type of urn. How do you unseal the top? Are the ashes in solid form in it? Thank you.

  2. Amy,
    A ceramic urn would have a sealant used to glue the lid on and can probably be removed with a little acetone, but we don’t deal in ceramic urns enough to know what would be best.
    I would suggest visiting a crematorium or local funeral home for advise on removing the lid.
    As far as the ashes go, they may be settled and packed but not in solid form. They will be able to be removed if that is what your goal is.

  3. Laura,
    Some of the brass box urns are a type of snap together. One of the ends can be removed by prying with a screw driver or butter knife. Be careful though, if you want to keep the urn. You won’t need to give it to much of a pry, too much will bend the outer part.

    Look for the end that has the most gap around all four sides, that should be the one to open. There may be a small hole marking the end as well.

  4. Is it generally accdepted to have two members ashes of the same family in a combined urn? If for instance a couple wants to be buried together? Thank You, Vince

  5. Hou can you dispouse aches….my husband said he will like to be dispose his aches in the see.What did I have to do and how did I go about..Did I need any permit

  6. Hi Ires,

    You do not need a permit to scatter ashes in the ocean. You can scatter on foot at the beach, or you use a boat to go out a little ways into the sea. I hope this helps!

  7. How do I open my Dad’s urn? His best friend made it down in Florida, made out of Cherry wood from a tree in his back yard. I believe it was glued so I could transport it back with me to Vermont. So now I want to carry out my Dad’s final wishes & spread his ashes but I can seem to break the seal.

  8. My mothers ashes are in a metal vase type urn i am trying to open it so her ashes can be scattered per her last wishes but can’t figure out how to break the seal. Any help would be appreciated

  9. Hi Kim,

    Contact the funeral home or crematorium that your family worked with. They should be able to help. They may have used a sealant to close the urn. I hope this helps!


  10. My husband has a standard bamboo urn your videos say I can access the ashes by taking the screws out from the bottom which I checked as there is 4 screws.

    when I do this what will I find are the ashes in a bag?? Is tis all I have to do is open the screws? I just don’t want to screw around with it and find out I cannot access his ashes nor do I want ashes to come falling out.
    It has been almost a year that I have kept him home and want to spread his ashes at an undisclosed place he loved very privately. Your comments will be very heart warming and will give me closure. Thank you

  11. Yes, the ashes will be in a bag inside the urn. Before you go to scatter, you may want to remove the screws and check so that you have what you need to scatter, for instance maybe a pair of scissors to cut the plastic if it is sealed.

  12. How do I open a wooden urn with no screws? Can’t seem to get into it and there are no screws on it but the front plate seems hard to get out without causing damage.

  13. Hi Krista,

    Hmm, sounds like your wood urn has a unique design. Typically, there is either a bottom opening panel that attaches with screws, or it is a top-opening urn with a hinged lid. Rarely there is a plug or gasket that removes to reveal a hole, into which the remains can be poured. Otherwise it sounds like the front plate could be covering the access point to the interior. Email us with some photos or video and we’ll try to help; otherwise the best option would be to take it in to a nearby funeral home and ask them if they can figure it out.

    Thank you!

  14. My best friend died and her sister sent me a tiny metal urn necklace with some of her cremated remains in it. It’s sealed and I feel like she should be in a necklace that’s prettier than this, is there anyway I can open this tiny necklace? I can’t go to the place her sister got them made because I live many states away.

  15. Hi Cyrstal, great question! Each jewelry piece is different, but usually when the remains are place inside it is sealed by a tiny screw with a gasket that you can simply unscrew. Even if it was sealed with some sort of sealant, you can often break the seal with some solid torque applied using a screwdriver. But unfortunately if that doesn’t work, there’s not much you can do at that point! You could, I suppose, attempt to drill a hole into it; but I’d advise taking it into a professional jeweler before trying that.
    Hope this helps!

  16. Once you put the lid on the ceramic glass one does it seal forever?
    I received one as a gift for my husband’s ashes and I was looking at it and I closed it before I have put him in there. For the life of me I cannot seem to open it is there a trick?

  17. Hi Lori,

    Thanks for asking! The glass urns – at least the ones we offer – have a glass lid that simply rests on top. You can (optionally) seal it with a bead of caulk, which is removable with a little bit of work at cutting through it. But if you simply set the lid on the urn and now it won’t open, it sounds to me like it is stuck. You might try spraying it with a glass cleaner and seeing if that “lubricates” it enough to loosen (disclaimer – we don’t know what the urn you actually have is like or is made from, so please use discretion). Hope this helps!

  18. My mother’s ashes are in a cultured marble block. I have opened the urn but cannot the remove the ashes through the opening. The tagged zip tied bag is too large. Can they ever be removed? If so, how would I dispose of the marble urn?

  19. Hi Kathie,

    Good question. The way to get the remains out will depend on how they put them in the urn in the first place. One of two methods is typically used:
    1) They could have placed the plastic bag inside the urn as a “liner”, then filled it and tied it off. If that’s the case, try to work the end of the bag out of the urn opening, then cut the zip tie. Pour out the remains until you can pull out the entire bag.
    2) They could have had a longer bag and the urn has a wide opening, and simply pushed the bag into the urn. You’ll still probably want to use the removal method I outlined above, but you may be able to work the entire (still-sealed) bag out of the opening. Be careful, as something inside the urn could snag and tear the bag.
    As for urn disposal, here is an article that covers that topic pretty well:

    Hope this helps!

  20. I would like to know how to open a temporary plastic urn box? I would hate to open it the wrong way and destroy it even though is it temporary? Also, how would you release ashes into the ocean and are there any laws?

  21. Hi Jess,

    The ashes are inside of a plastic bag within the plastic temporary urn, so they should be safe while you’re opening the temporary urn. There are usually folding tabs that secure the container, sometimes a snap or even velcro. Opening it will just depend on the way it was manufactured.

    As for releasing ashes in the ocean, here are the guidelines:

  22. My Mother in law bought 4 plots, one for her, her husband, my husband and me. Now I have a sister in law who is dying from cancer and wants to be buried in my spot. I never gave permission and was never asked… .What I am wondering is, is it possible for one urn and just the bag of remains of someone else be buried in one grave spot?

  23. Hi Bev,

    You’d need to talk to the cemetery about that, it will depend on the size of the burial plot (whether it’s a full-body-sized plot vs a smaller cremation plot) as well as the cemetery’s policies and how you would like to do the grave marker(s). But yes, multiple urns can be buried in one plot; I’ve seen many spouses have their urns buried with one above the other.

  24. The type of urn we have is mosaic with the top sealed but the bottom has a plug with a groove like for a large screwdriver and was wondering how would we open it? Because of the plug on the bottom, it didn’t sit on the table without wobbling but I found something to hold it in place.

  25. Hi Lynne,

    You would want to contact the manufacturer (or the seller) to see how best to open the urn.

Leave a Comment