How Long Does a Cremation Actually Take From Start to Finish?

Understanding cremation

Before making the choice of cremation over burial, it is natural to want to understand more about the process of cremation, which is gaining in popularity and now accounts for around two-thirds of the funeral services industry.

To help you discover more about the cremation process, in this blog we will explore how cremation works, how long it takes to cremate a body, how the body is prepared for cremation and some lesser-known details about the process of reducing a body to cremated remains.

Despite its rapidly-growing popularity in Australia, few people generally want to discuss the process of cremation, and so many make the decision to choose cremation over burial without fully understanding the cremation process.

Choosing cremation over burial is a big decision, so we at McCartney Family Funerals want to be sure you have all the information you need to make the best choice for yourself, your family or your loved one.

How long does it take to cremate a body?

The time from the start of cremation to the cremated remains being removed from the cremator will vary, based on several factors. If it is the first cremation of the day, it may take longer for the cremator to reach the required temperature, between 800 and 1000 degrees Celsius, and the actual cremation may take slightly longer than it would otherwise because the heat hasn’t had a chance to collect in the thermal mass of the cremator.

Cremating an average-sized person can take around one to two hours, but cremating a larger person may take longer, depending on body mass and fat content.

Cremators are set to a cycle of heating, maximum burn, boost and cool down and the length of this cycle is usually determined with the weight of the deceased in mind.

Anyone who has had a loved one, or even a pet cremated will understand that it may actually take around two weeks for the cremated remains to be brought home after the cremation, and this delay is to accommodate administration, paperwork and the availability of a delivery time to return your loved one home.

How is the body prepared for a cremation?

Apart from a few specific requirements, there is no general preparation required to cremate a human body. Because the cremator reaches such intense temperatures, no batteries are allowed inside, as these can explode, causing danger to the crematorium staff and damage to the cremator. If the deceased person had a medical implant containing a battery, such as a pacemaker, cochlear bone-anchored hearing aid, defibrillator, brain stimulator or morphine pump, this will be removed by the mortician at the funeral home during the general body preparation.

Likewise, bodies may sometimes be cremated with gifts in the coffin, especially if the person dies around Christmas or a birthday; or a favourite toy, or piece of sporting equipment, and these must be checked for batteries by the mortician prior to release to the crematorium.

A medical examiner is required to check all bodies prior to cremation to confirm all battery-operated devices have been safely removed.

Basic body preparation, carried out by the funeral home’s mortician with all deceased unless otherwise instructed by the family, is usually to wash and disinfect the body, close the eyes and mouth, redress or wrap the body in a shroud and place it in the family’s coffin of choice.

If the family has requested a viewing the face may be cosmetised and any reconstructive work attended to for the comfort of loved ones at the viewing.

After the service or viewing, the deceased will be transported to the crematorium.

The cremation process

Once you have decided on cremation for a loved one and made all the other arrangements with the funeral director, a date for the cremation will be set. Your loved one will remain in the care of the funeral home until this time and this is when you may choose to have a viewing or make final arrangements for a service. If you choose to have a service, the cremation usually takes place directly after, but if the service is in the afternoon, the actual cremation might happen the following day.

Direct cremation is an option that people choose, often when the relatives are scarce or spread out and unable to attend a service. In this case, the body is taken straight from the funeral home to the crematorium and cremated without a service, flowers, viewing or other add-ons. This is the least expensive option, taking place without any fuss or fanfare. A cardboard coffin may even be selected for this option.

Once the body arrives at the crematorium, it will be scheduled into the day’s cremations according to the size of the person and the time the body arrived. The body will then be placed into a large cremator which has already been heated to the desired temperature. The cremation cycle will take place and part-way through a crematorium technician will open the cremator part way and redistribute the remains towards the centre of the cremator to ensure the larger bones are burned. At this stage, it is only bone that remains.

Only one body will fit in the cremator at a time and identification papers travel with the deceased throughout the entire process so there is no danger of a mix-up and you will always only receive back the remains of your loved one.

Once the cremation cycle is complete the cremator goes through a cooling phase, at the end of which the cremated remains are removed via a collection tray in the bottom of the cremator. The remains are then cooled and any remaining large pieces of bone are reduced to ashes in a tumbling device.

The cremated remains, or cremains, are then placed in a plastic receptacle and labelled ready for collection or delivery to the family. The remains may be divided between several vessels if being given to multiple people.

After cremation

Once the cremation is finished, the remains will be transported back to the funeral director who will place the ashes in your urn of choice. Alternatively, the family may choose to scatter the ashes in nature, providing the chosen location complies with council laws; or the ashes may be interred in a memorial garden at the crematorium or cemetery. This must be pre-arranged and the funeral director will guide you on this during the initial arrangements.

Benefits of cremation

·         Cremation is a fast, efficient and dignified process that is growing in popularity.

·         There are many advantages to choosing cremation:

·         There is no burial plot required or upkeep;

·         Several family members can share the cremated remains

·         It can be the most cost effective option

·         The cremated remains are easily transportable for repatriation or if the family moves around

Many people choose cremation for cultural reasons. Some religions believe cremating the body is a way of purifying and releasing the soul. For others, cremation is a practical choice.

Whether you decide on cremation or burial, it is always important to inform your family of your wishes or make the arrangements yourself, to save them the distress at your time of passing.

Our caring funeral arrangers at McCartney Family Funerals can answer any questions you may have on cremation so that you can make the right choice for your family. We are happy to take your call on 1300 043 522 or visit our website at for more information.

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