How to Decant Ashes: A guide

Decanting – or transferring – ashes can be done with the help of a few simple tips. It can be a beautifully cathartic experience, too.
How to Decant Ashes: A guide

When it comes to cremated remains, decanting involves pouring the ashes carefully out of the plastic urn provided, and into another cremation urn or vessel. This of course depends on each unique plan for the storage or scattering of ashes, of which the options are (almost) endless.

If you’ll be handling a loved one’s ashes following cremation and have a special holding-place in mind for them, read on for some how-tos and don't-dos when transferring the precious powder.

Familiarise yourself with the temporary urn holding the ashes to be decanted

Cremated remains may arrive from the crematorium or funeral planner contained in a bag that sits within an outer plastic box or temporary urn. But, from Willed they will be delivered in a secure PVC container, without an inner plastic bag. And while this temporary urn mightn’t be much to look at, the small round plug at the bottom of the container allows you to release the cremains into more aesthetically pleasing and sentimental housing. It just requires some gentle “jimmying” to pry it open (as you might’ve done with an old-school moneybox back in the day).

It’s best to use a flat-headed (or slotted) screwdriver for this technique (as opposed to a sharper tool like a knife) so as to avoid any accidental slippages and cuts. Some seals may not be lifted as easily with a screwdriver due to variances in the amount of ash contained in the urn or the design of the individual urn itself. In this case, you can use a Stanley knife to carefully cut a diagonal hole at one corner of the urn. This creates a small spout through which you can pour the ashes in a controlled manner.

Prepare a suitable spot to decant the ashes 

There are a few common-sense considerations to ensure your set-up is conducive with a seamless transfer of your loved one’s cremains. Firstly, lay down some newspaper on a flat table or working surface. The levelled area will ensure there is no runoff, and the newspaper will catch any sneaky stray cremains. Secondly, you should ideally decant in an area that is well-lit and undisturbed by wind or breeze. This means your best bet is a sheltered indoor space – as long as there are no fans around! 

Depending on the mouth of the urn into which you are decanting, it’s best also to have a funnel close at hand to help lovingly guide the ashes into their new vessel. Finally, when doing the decanting, there’s often a small plume of the fine powder, so you might like to keep your face at a distance that’s comfortable for you.

Filling the designated urn

Picking out the perfect display cremation urn, keepsake urn or other memorial vessel was likely one of the very first things you did as part of this meaningful and emotional decanting process. Completing the transfer of the ashes then just requires some attention to the tips above, as well as some awareness of the volume capacity of the designated urn.

It’s recommended that you take extra care when transferring cremation ashes to keepsake urns or jewellery urns. These vessels tend to be smaller and so require a bit more precision than when transferring to a larger display urn, for example. You can get resourceful here by using a small piece of cardboard or thick paper rolled into a cone to create a mini funnel as a daintier decanting tool. Always pour the cremains in a controlled manner and allow any excess to fall into a shallow bowl that can be strategically placed to catch any misdirected ash.

If you don’t want to DIY

While the thought of transferring cremated remains might sound intimidating, undertaking the process can help to provide closure after losing a loved one, and create a sense of personal ritual around the grieving process. There is also, of course, always the option to leave decanting to the pros. Crematorium personnel and funeral planners are professionals who are well versed in how to transfer ashes into cremation urns. Chat to the experienced team at Willed for further advice on this, and have any of your b-urn-ing questions answered.

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