Graveyard Shift

What Actually Happens To A Body In A Crematorium  

Christopher Myers
473.6k views 12 items

Have you ever wondered what really happens during a cremation? How does a crematorium even work? Well, wonder no more! Here is a step-by-step explanation of the cremation process, where you can indulge in your morbid and practical curiosity about everything that goes on inside the walls of a crematorium.

Perhaps this will even help you decide what you would prefer to do with your own mortal vessel. Cremation takes up far less land than traditional burials do, and human taxidermy is still frowned upon, making cremation an ever popular option. In the end, remains all have to go somewhere.

If nothing else, cremation is a really interesting process, though not quite as interesting as a Viking funeral.

Cremation In A Nutshell is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list What Actually Happens To A Body In A Crematorium
Photo:  Dontworry/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
Cremation In A Nutshell

Cremation is the method by which human remains are reduced to a fine ash through the use of extreme heat. In short, it refers to burning. The crematorium is, expectedly, the facility in which the process of cremation takes place, and it can be located in a funeral home, a chapel, or a stand-alone building.

The crematorium houses the cremation chamber as well as all the necessary ventilation, controls, and tools for operating it. However, the process is a bit more complicated than simply tossing a body onto a pyre - mostly because of safety, consistency, and environmental reasons.

The Body Is Prepared is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list What Actually Happens To A Body In A Crematorium
Photo:  Mihai Petre/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0
The Body Is Prepared

Certain therapeutic devices , such as pacemakers, will burst when put into a cremator. Therefore, it is important to remove them from the body - in addition to any implants that might create hazardous gasses when burned - before carrying out the cremation.

All jewelry of any value should also be removed because it is likely going to be completely wiped out during the cremation anyway.

The Body Enters The Inferno: H... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list What Actually Happens To A Body In A Crematorium
Photo:  Dontworry/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
The Body Enters The Inferno: How The Cremation Chamber Works

Also known as a retort, the cremation chamber maintains a temperature between 1,400 and 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, and is lined with industrial brick designed to hold the high temperatures. The chamber is designed to only hold one body at a time, with only very specific exceptions made. In most cases, it is actually illegal to burn multiple bodies at once in the same cremator.

The body remains inside the combustible coffin as it is placed into the cremation chamber. The door to the chamber only opens briefly to intern the body, in order to maintain the high temperatures required for the process. Once fueled by coal and coke, modern cremation chambers are now usually fueled by natural gas, propane, or diesel.

The Corpse Is Overcome By Extreme Heat And Flames

After being placed inside the cremation chamber, the coffin and body are exposed to a massive column of flames. The coffin ignites first, and then the body itself. Water from the body quickly leaves in the form of steam, and then it begins to combust. The hair and skin are burned off first, followed by the muscles, which contract and are then charred. The soft tissues are vaporized, and then the bones begin to calcify.

At this point, the body has been reduced to skeletal remains. Some crematoriums also have secondary afterburners that can reduce emissions, odors, and smoke. Otherwise, the now brittle bones are crushed manually by someone using a long rod tool resembling a hoe.

The whole process takes around two to three hours, depending on factors such as the weight of the body, the type of casket used, and the average temperature maintained by the retort.