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Is the whole body cremated?

Cremation is a method of final disposition of a deceased person’s body through burning. Cremation is an increasingly popular option, with over 50% of people in the US choosing cremation in recent years. During a typical cremation, a deceased person’s body is placed in a cremation chamber or retort and subjected to intense heat and flame, which reduces the body to skeletal remains and ashes. Many people wonder during the process if the entire body gets cremated or if some parts remain unburned. This article will provide an overview of the cremation process and examine what actually happens to the body during cremation.

What Happens During Cremation?

Cremation takes place within a cremation chamber or retort, which is a furnace capable of producing temperatures of 1400-1800 degrees Fahrenheit. At these extreme temperatures, human bodies can be reduced to basic elements and compounds in a relatively short time. Here is a basic overview of the cremation process:

– The body is placed in a combustible container or casket that is then loaded into the cremation chamber. Any personal effects like jewelry are generally removed prior.

– The chamber door is closed and the temperature gradually raised to between 1400-1800 degrees F using gas or propane fuel.

– The body is subjected to these high temperatures for approximately 1-3 hours. During this time, the intense heat dries out the body, causing it to shrink and disintegrate.

– The remaining bone fragments are broken down into chalk-like material known as calcified remains or cremated remains. Metal including dental fillings or surgical implants are also broken down.

– Remaining bone fragments are swept from the chamber and ground into a fine powder using a processor. These processed remains are the cremated ashes.

– Cremated remains are placed into an urn or further processed/pulverized if desired, then returned to the deceased’s family.

So in summary, the body undergoes a thorough process of drying, burning, disintegration, and pulverization during cremation. But are absolutely all parts of the body consumed?

Are Any Parts of the Body Unburned?

While cremation aims to fully reduce the body to ashes, some parts of the body’s anatomy and composition make them resistant to burning completely during the process. Here are some key points on what may be left behind after cremation:

– Bone fragments – While bones are mostly reduced to a chalky powder, larger bone fragments can remain, especially from denser bones like the femur, hip, and skull. These may be screened out and processed further.

– Dental work – Gold, porcelain, and composite dental fillings and crowns often survive cremation. Other metal surgical implants like artificial hips may also remain.

– Pacemakers and prosthetics – Pacemakers with lithium batteries and prosthetic devices should be removed prior to cremation. If left in place, they may damage the chamber during cremation.

– Silicon breast implants – Silicone often remains intact throughout cremation. Manufacturers advise removing implants before cremation.

– Seeds/grains in stomach – Undigested seeds and grains in the stomach or fillings from medical procedures can remain after cremation.

– DNA – While most organic matter and soft tissues are destroyed, small traces of DNA may remain within the cremated remains.

So in general, dense inorganic matter like bone, metal, and silicone are the most likely components to survive cremation without being fully reduced to ashes. That’s why the remains undergo mechanical processing to achieve a uniform powder.

How Much Ash is Produced?

The amount of cremated remains produced depends on a few key factors:

– Body size – Larger bodies with more bone mass produce more cremated remains, with heavier individuals producing 4-8 lbs typically. Smaller bodies produce less, with cremated remains from infants weighing only around 3 lbs.

– Bone density – Age impacts bone density, with more brittle bones in older bodies producing less powdered ash. Younger people’s denser bones produce more.

– Casket/container – Use of a combustible container means less ash, while non-combustible caskets add to the residue amount.

– Completeness of cremation – More complete and longer duration cremations reduce the body to finer particles and less overall cremated remains.

On average, a typical adult body is reduced to around 3-7 lbs of cremated ashes after grinding. The range depends on the factors above, but this amount is about 5-8% of total body weight. So most but not 100% of body tissue is reduced during cremation.

Typical Weight of Cremated Remains

Body Type Weight of Remains
Adult 3-7 lbs
Large/obese adult 4-8+ lbs
Child 2-4 lbs
Infant ~3 lbs

As shown in the table, cremated remains weight varies based on body size but fall within a typical range. Keep in mind that remains from multiple bodies cremated together will be mixed.

What About Organ Donation?

For people who choose to be organ donors, this also impacts how much of the body is cremated. Donated organs and tissues are surgically removed prior to cremation, so remaining parts include:

– Skeleton minus long bones like femurs if donated
– Brain matter unless the brain is donated
– Residual soft tissues and skin

Since organ donation can significantly reduce body weight before cremation, donors’ cremated remains are typically less in quantity. Important organs removed usually include:

– Heart
– Lungs
– Liver
– Kidneys
– Pancreas
– Intestines

So the cremated remains represent the partial body left after tissue and organ donation. This can reduce remains weight by 10-20% or more compared to non-donors.

Is a Casket or Container Necessary?

A casket or alternative container is necessary for modern cremations for several reasons:

– Combustible containers help expedite cremation, while non-combustible caskets take longer but can increase remain weight.

– Containers protect the dignity of the deceased during handling and placement into the cremation chamber.

– Caskets allow proper identification tags to stay with the body throughout the process before ashes are returned.

Two main options exist:

Caskets for Cremation

– Tradtional caskets made from hardwood, fiberboard, or other material. More ornate but combustible. Allows viewing.

– Simple cloth casket or “cremation tray” – A simple sturdy cardboard or wood tray that is combustible and affordable. No viewing.

Urns for Cremated Remains

– Cremated ashes are placed into an urn for return to the family. Can be decorative ceramic, wood, metal, glass, or biodegradable.

– Scattering urns or biodegradable containers designed to allow scattering of ashes.

So a container is necessary throughout cremation to identify remains and also provide an urn for final disposition. Crematories will require a container for the process.

What About Pacemakers, Prosthetics, and Implants?

Pacemakers, prosthetic devices, surgical implants, and silicone breast implants require special handling before cremation:

– Pacemakers and defibrillators must be removed due to risk of explosion from their lithium batteries when heated.

– Prosthetics like artificial joints should be removed as they may damage cremation equipment.

– Metal implants may survive cremation and need to be separated from remains.

– Silicone breast implants should be removed if possible as silicone withstands heat.

If not removed prior to cremation, these devices may be screened out of the cremated remains and disposed of by the crematory afterwards. Families should notify the funeral director about any devices and implants to allow proper removal first.

What Type of Container is Required?

The container used for cremation depends on a few factors:

Cremation Caskets

– Typically made from wood, cardboard, or fiberboard. Must be combustible.

– Can provide a more decorative, ornate appearance for services. More expensive.

– Allow for viewing of the deceased if desired.

Alternative Cremation Containers

– Simple container made from cardboard, plastic, or unfinished wood. Lower cost.

– Sturdy construction to protect deceased. No viewing.

– Meet minimum requirements for cremation process.

The minimum is typically an inexpensive but sturdy alternative container. Cremation caskets are optional for more traditional services. Talk to your funeral provider about local requirements.

What Happens to Dental Fillings and Medical Devices?

During cremation, dental fillings and medical devices respond differently to heat:

– Gold fillings and crowns – Do not melt, remain in cremated ashes.

– Dental porcelain – Usually breaks down from heat shock, mixes with ashes.

– Composite resin fillings – Burn away fairly completely during cremation.

– Pacemakers/defibrillators – Can explode due to lithium batteries if not removed prior.

– Artificial hips/joints – Should be removed beforehand to avoid damage to cremation equipment.

– Surgical screws/plates – Will usually melt and mix with remains.

– Silicone implants – Withstand heat and don’t break down during cremation.

The crematory will make effort to remove anything potentially hazardous like pacemakers before cremation. Family should disclose any devices or implants to funeral director.

Can Cremated Remains Be Divided?

It is possible to divide up and distribute cremated remains in different ways:

– Cremated remains may be split and placed into multiple urns. Common for families or couples who want remains kept together.

– Portions can be distributed into keepsake urns or jewelry like pendants to share among loved ones.

– Remains can be interred while also scattering or keeping a portion. This allows for a grave memorial site while also sharing ashes.

– Pets can be cremated individually or with human remains, then interred together. Check with state laws first regarding pet cremation.

– Veteran remains can potentially be interred at national cemeteries in addition to other locations. Check eligibility requirements.

It’s advisable to inform the crematory beforehand about any plans to split remains so they can ensure sufficient processing. This allows dividing and allocating ashes according to personal wishes.

Regulations on Dividing Cremated Remains

State Law
California Remains may be separated with next-of-kin consent
Florida No laws prohibiting separation
New York Division into parts only with crematory operator approval
Wisconsin Division allowed with family consent

Regulations vary by state, so check local laws first before dividing remains. Most states allow it with proper consent.

Can You Be Cremated With a Pacemaker?

Pacemakers, defibrillators, and similar cardiac devices cannot safely remain in place during cremation for several key reasons:

– Pacemaker batteries contain lithium metal that explodes when exposed to high heat.

– Explosions can damage cremation equipment and prevent proper processing.

– Toxic fumes from batteries can be hazardous to employees at the crematory.

– Resulting cybernetic implants remaining can pose risk for future recycling of metallic extracts.

Therefore, crematories will refuse remains still containing pacemakers or they will be obligated to explant devices beforehand. Options include:

– Next-of-kin granting pre-death pacemaker removal via simple surgery. Allows it to be recycled.

– Coroner or medical examiner removing pacemaker shortly after death.

– Cremation staff removing device just prior to cremation and disposing.

No matter what, pacemakers can’t undergo cremation. Crematories will ensure they are removed by someone first for safety. Be sure to alert staff ahead of time.


The modern cremation process is designed to thoroughly reduce a body to basic elements and compounds through prolonged exposure to high heat. While small bone fragments and other inorganic matter like dental work or implants may resist complete breakdown, the vast majority of soft tissues are reduced to ashes. On average, heavier bodies yield more cremated remains by weight, with amounts ranging from around 3-8 lbs. Remains can be divided and kept in multiple urns or interred in different locations if desired. Overall, cremation aims to reduce all parts of the body through combustion, pyrolysis, and mechanical processing, leaving only harmless ashes to return to loved ones.