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What are cremated ashes like?

Cremation ashes: What are they like?

Cremated ashes, also known as cremated remains, are the bone matter that is left once the cremation process is complete. Many people would like to know, What are cremated ashes like? Let’s find out.

The cremation process applies extreme temperature – fire – to the body, completely incinterating everything and reducing the body to bone material. The bone matter is then crushed or ground into tiny particles, resulting in the cremated remains which are commonly – but erroneously – referred to as “ashes.” Grayish-white in color, the “cremated ashes” are actually not like ashes* at all. Cremated remains somewhat resemble coarse sand, and are suprisingly weighty coming in at about 4-8 lbs for most adults.

*We still refer to cremated remains as “ashes” throughout this post and elsewhere, since that is the popular term which people use when searching for information about the topic. Cremated ashes and cremated remains are interchangable terms, though cremated remains is the correct one.

What Are Cremated Ashes Like?

Cremated ashes are coarse and gritty, with a medium to dark gray color. Initially after the cremation there will be bone fragments, but these are run through a machine to grind them down into the coarse sand-like substance you will receive.

The remains will look something like the image below when they come out of the cremation chamber:

What are cremated ashes like?

Note the larger bone fragments, which are mechanically pulverized down to the coarse, gritty sand-like material you see towards the right of the cremation tray in the photograph.

Once the actual cremation and refinement process is complete, the remains are put into a plastic bag which is then placed inside a plastic or cardboard box known as a “temporary urn.”

Temporary Urns

What are cremated ashes like?

Most temporary urns measure a standard 8.5″ x 6.5″ x 4.5″, which has a capacity of 200 cubic inches. This works for the remains of nearly all adults. See here for more information about the amount of remains you will likely recieve, as well as info on the sizing of cremation urns.

Transferring and Handling Cremated Remains

Since the remains come in a plastic bag, there is no need to handle the actual cremated remains if you are transferring them into a more permanent urn. Typically, you can simply open the temporary box, pull out the bag, place it into the new urn, and close it up. Here are some videos demonstrating how this is done with wood, marble, and scattering urns.

Most cremation urns have an interior the same size as the interior of the temporary urn. This means, due to the thickness of the temporary container, that it will not fit directly inside a cremation urn. You’ll typically need to transfer the bag of remains into the urn.

However, since many people have asked for an urn that will actually hold the entire temporary urn, we do have a simple, affordable design that will hold the plastic temporary urn. See here.

You can browse our collection of elegant cremation urns here.

There are many additional ways to put your loved one’s remains at rest. Here are the main options: What To Do With Cremated Remains: A 5 Minute Guide. We’ve also published a popular summary of some more “alternative” options: 27 Things To Do With Cremated Remains.

Here’s our answer to the question, What do I do with cremated ashes?

Scattering Ashes

Although most of the cremated remains will be a coarse and weighty sand-like texture as mentioned about, there will be a little dust mixed in. Not as much as the movies would have you believe, but enough to present a potential issue on a windy day. So if you’re scattering by casting, be sure to take the wind into account and scatter along with the wind rather than against it.

What are cremated ashes like?

Here are some resources on scattering ashes:

Below is a nice, helpful video that shows how to scatter ashes. Note that in the video dirt is used in place of the ashes; nevertheless, there are a lot of helpful tips presented:

The Cremation Process

Here are some videos about the cremation process.

And here is Part 2:

Tell Your Story

If you have had experience with cremated remains or “ashes,” tell us more about what cremated ashes are like or how you handled them in the comments below.

What are cremated remains like?

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6 thoughts on “What are cremated ashes like?

  1. Hello, this isn’t easy to ask, but haven’t been able to get a straight answer. My son passed at 25 an African American young man , he was medium light Briown skinned in complection, although remains ashes are not grey instead they brown sad and bone looking, I pray this is an nother explanation for them not being grey. And should I dig deeper.

  2. Hi Senithea,

    Good question! I do know that cremated remains vary in color. You should ask someone who works at a crematorium for more specifics.

    Thank you!

  3. Hi, my husband passed away in June of 2017 and I have his remains in a metal urn. I have recently travelled to Ireland and brought some of his remains with me. I had placed them in an old plastic medicine bottle that I had placed in a Ziploc bag. Our flight was delayed an extra day so the remains were locked in a suitcase for 48 hours. When I opened the suitcase there was a very odd odour that I have never smelled before and it was rather unpleasant. I had my husband in one bag completely sealed in the bottle and another sealed bag of coffee. I could not figure out where this smell was coming from but when I put my nose closer to the medicine bottle it seemed to be coming from there. There has NEVER been an odour at home so I’m wondering what has happened? Is this common and could it be from his remains? I would really appreciate any information you could provide. Thank you, Christine

  4. Hi Christine,

    I have not heard of anythin like this happening before, so unfortunately I can’t give any guidance on this! It sounds like the container came into contact with somethinging, you may try just leaving the bag out in the open (in a safe place) for a while to allow the odor to dissipate.

  5. Hi, I ordered my urn which turn out a bit small. It’s supposed to keep some of the bone in my house. However I tried crushing it in order to fit in the urn but it’s just cannot break. Please advise how to crush the small bones.

  6. Hi Caron,

    I would advise taking the remains back to where you had the cremation done, or to a local crematorium if the crematorium is far away. The crematorium really should have taken care of this initially, so you may want to contact them about it in any case even if it is far away.

    Hope this helps!

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