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 surprisingly 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, ranging in color from white-gray to dark gray. 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:
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.”
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.
Related: How to Use a Temporary Urn
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?
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.
Read More: The Complete Guide to Scattering Ashes
This video illustrates and describes the cremation process in a simple, helpful way.
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.
27 thoughts on “What are cremated ashes like?”
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.
Good question! I do know that cremated remains vary in color. You should ask someone who works at a crematorium for more specifics.
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
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.
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.
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!
My husband passed away from cancer and when I got his ashes back they were a pinkish color I’ve never seen this before and have asked the question and no one can give me an answer hopefully you can did not receive answer you said it was posted before
I’ve never heard of remains being that color before; typically the color is in a range between gray and white. You might want to ask the funeral home or crematory… sorry I couldn’t be more helpful!
Thank you for explaining the texture of created remains. I recently lost my dog of 17 years and had him cremated. I had his ashes put in a pendant and never saw the ashes. I finally had the courage of opening the container the rest of his ashes are in and was very surprised of how it felt. I now understand the grainy feel of it. Thank you again.
My girlfriend swears that her uncle’s “ashes” had larger bone fragments and some teeth…is this possible or a false memory, as it was years ago? I think it’s the latter.
It’s impossible to say. Anything is possible, but if there was something of the sort it might have just been that – a few fragments that were larger and thus visible.
My father recently passed away and his girlfriend mailed me and my siblings some of his ashes. They don’t look like I imagined though. They look very much like small, driveway gravel. Little bit of powdery gray dust mixed in with gray, white, and black shards. Just seems weird to me. Is that typical or should I be concerned about whether she sent us the real deal? Thanks!
That sounds about right, but if you want to be 100% sure I would suggest that you take the remains to a local funeral home or crematorium and ask if a professional can look at them to confirm. Hope this helps!
My daddy died last month. I just got a tiny portion from his wife yesterday to split between my brother and me, and what is left will be buried with our mom.
I had never seen ashes before and I am afraid the place she chose didn’t do a thorough job. I was absolutely devastated when I looked at the bag and there were larger pieces of bone. I had never really thought about the process or what you’re actually getting before, but it’s hard to pretend it’s just “ashes” when there are actual shards staring you in the face. It broke me.
I had my dog cremated when he died. The “ashes” are pure white. Did they bleach them? Is this really him?
Yes, cremated remains can be very white. Crematoriums take care to identify each decedent clearly throughout the cremation process. For more info, read this: https://www.usurnsonline.com/cremation/cremation-process/
My mother in laws ashes have been in the original box for 11 years. We finally opened them to look at them because we are planning a scattering and they are hard. Like it’s a block of ashes. It seems wrong to break it up with a hammer. Is this normal?
Great question! Like with any substance, ambient moisture along with the rise and fall of temperatures throughout each day and season will cause the contents to firm up. That doesn’t always happen, but at the same time it’s not surprising. Also, bear in mind that as part of the cremation process, the remaining bone fragments are pulverized in a machine to get to the gritty “ash” consistency. So, knowing that, I personally don’t think it’s too different to break up the ashes with a hammer or other tools. Done with care and respect, and with the goal in mind of honoring your loved one through the final scattering, I think it’s ok to be at peace about it. Hope this helps!
Is the crematorium cleaned of other peoples ashes before the next cremation?
Yes, for sure. The crematory operator makes sure the retort is fully cleaned out prior to the next cremation.
My husbands cremains are in his urn, inside a sealed, heavy plastic bag. The cremains are not the least bit soft, they are crunchy. I have touched the bag but I know what I am feeling are his crushed bones. This upsets me – I have no idea how people can scatter this product! I honestly thought the cremains would be more finely broken down, like sand or heavy dirt. These look and feel more like crushed granite.
My sister-in-law’s urn was caught in a terrible house fire. She is in a brass urn. The fire was so hot the lid sealed to the urn. I was able to find someone to break the thread so we could open the urn. The ashes had solidified to a concrete hardened mass. What affect does an urn caught in a fire have on the ashes inside? Are they “cremated again”? How can you get the original remains to go back to their original state instead of a hardened block?
I’m so sorry to hear about that! To get the remains back into a gravel or dust-like state, you would need to find a way to break them up rather than using additional heat. In simple terms, take a hammer and chisel to it. Hope this helps!
My grandmother’s cremated remains were shipped to me directly from the crematory in California. Sadly, the UPS delivery person left the box in front of my door, outside. I was supposed to sign for her but they just disrespectfully left her on the stoop. Long story short, some porch thief stole the box. We filed a police report. Long story short, she’s never been found. And we know she was stolen because the neighbors video captured it. It’s been 3 years and still devastated. Fyi the box clearly showed it was human cremation remains on the side.
I am so sorry to hear that! USPS certainly should have required a signature for that. Very sad and frustrating!
Hi, my best friend passed away I’m 2012 and my sister in law supposedly got some of his bone chunks from his ashes off of his father’s grave after they were scattered there..my sister in law is a compulsive liar and I really wish I could trust that it is my best friends bone fragments but they just seem too big and a little heavy for being “ashes” one of the chunks is about not quite half inch long ..is this normal or is this possible? Any advice would be greatly appreciated…thank you …
Yes, it is entirely possible for bone fragments of 1/2″ to be in the cremated remains. If you would like to pursue the question further, you might want to contact a forensics laboratory near you for testing.