All kinds of myths exist about cremation, from the silly to the sinister. Some people believe that crematoria remove the body for burning and return the coffin to the funeral director for reuse, or even that everyone is cremated at once and each family is given a portion of the mixed ashes.

Just to be clear, neither of those things is true. Yet, much of the cremation process happens out of sight of the mourners, leaving many of us with a lot of questions. When a body is cremated, what happens to the coffin? Is it separated from the ashes? Do they cremate the coffin with the body inside, or is the body removed? Here are the facts.

 

Do you get cremated in a coffin?

Yes. Before a body is placed in a coffin, the funeral director and mortuary technician will remove anything that might cause problems during cremation, like watches or pacemakers (which can explode in the heat). Once that is complete, the body is placed in the coffin, the coffin is closed and, when the time comes, brought to the crematorium for the cremation.

 

Can you be cremated without a coffin?

The only hard and fast law about this in the UK is that a body must be covered up in public. In principle, coffins aren’t a legal requirement for cremation: a shroud or a coffin will do.

In practice, however, you do usually need to be cremated in some kind of coffin, even if it’s made of something very simple, like cardboard or wicker. The way cremators are built, you can’t really manoeuvre a body inside one easily or safely by itself – it needs to be in a container with a solid, flat base. Some crematoria are happy to use a board, but others prefer a coffin.

Did you know? You can arrange a direct cremation without a service with Beyond for just £1,195. The price includes an eco-coffin made from solid wood sourced from FSC-certified forests, as well as hand delivery of the ashes. Find out more about direct cremation here.

 

Does the coffin get cremated with the body?

Crematoria in the UK follow a strict code of practice which states that a coffin and its contents must be put in the cremator exactly as they were received. So, do they burn coffins at cremations? Yes, always – as this Guardian account of the cremation and burial process confirms.

Sometimes, re-usable covers are placed on the outside of a coffin to smarten it up during the funeral or committal ceremony. This might be where the “recycled coffins” myth comes from. The covers won’t be cremated, but the actual coffin is always placed in the cremator with the body.

 

How do you know it’s the right person?

Every funeral or cremation ceremony has a point where the body of the person who has died is committed, meaning it is taken into a separate room. This is the point where an inspector checks that the nameplate on the coffin matches the cremation order. Nothing can be removed from the coffin once the committal has taken place.

Once that check has happened, it’s difficult to mix things up. A cremator only has enough space for one coffin at a time, and cremation takes between 90 minutes and 3 hours depending on the size and age of the person.

 

What happens to coffins after cremation?

Coffins are built to be completely destroyed during the cremation process. It takes a lot of heat to cremate a body – so much, in fact, that there’s normally little or nothing left of the coffin among the ashes at the end. The ashes themselves are actually fragments of bone.

If, for any reason, you’re worried about what’s going to happen to your loved one’s body before or during cremation, you might be allowed into the committal chamber as a witness. You might also find it useful to read our guide to what happens during a cremation to get an idea of how the process will go.

 


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