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 do human ashes look like? Let’s find out.
The Cremation Process
The cremation process applies extreme temperature – fire – to the body, completely incinerating everything and reducing the body to bone material.
This 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 interchangeable terms, though cremated remains is the correct one.
What Do Cremated Ashes Look 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 ashes 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.”
Temporary Cremation Urns
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 receive, 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 urn that will hold the plastic temporary urn.
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: 68 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.
Daniel has been working in the funeral industry since 2010, speaking directly to grieving families as they made funeral arrangements.
He began researching and publishing funeral articles on this website as part of his role as product and marketing manager at Urns Northwest.
Having written hundreds of articles and growing the site to multiple millions of views per year, Daniel continues to write while providing editorial oversight for US Urns Online’s content team.