What are human ashes like?

A person's ashes are like footprints - no two are ever the same. Their weight and colour vary significantly and are typically odourless and safe to touch.
What are human ashes like?

When thinking about direct cremation, it is normal for people to ask about the appearance of human ashes. This question is a very reasonable and sensible inquiry, particularly for anyone who wants to have a ceremony or scattering done. People also want to know:

  • What takes place during a cremation?
  • What’s in the ashes?
  • Do they smell?
  • What do people do with ashes?

In this guide, we aim to answer these questions and more.

What colour are ashes?

To ordinary people, human ashes may look like the grey ashes you would find in a fireplace or fire pit. The colour of ash ranges from grey to grey-brown or from medium to light grey, although it is common for them to be a darker shade of grey or have just a hint of brown too. One thing is for sure; ashes are not black.

A person’s skin tone does not determine the colour of their ashes, but exposure to chemicals throughout their life can. For example, if a person was exposed to trace amounts of copper or lead in their drinking water or if they lived near factories and breathed in metal particles like iron or cobalt over a long period of time. In these cases, ashes may be darker than usual.

What do human ashes feel like?

For most people, when they think of ashes, they think of the fine flakes and particles commonly found in a fireplace. Likewise, it’s common for human ashes to be depicted as fine dust in movies. However neither of those examples are quite accurate. Human ashes are not as soft as they appear. The grey substance is actually coarse, like sand, because they are made of bone.

How much do ashes weigh?

Bones are heavier than most people anticipate since they contain salts, minerals, and acids. The weight of the ashes will vary depending on the size and physicality of the deceased. The most robust bones are those belonging to men and young adults. The bones of women, children, and the elderly are often less dense. Ashes will, therefore, weigh differently depending on health, gender, age, and height.

As a general rule, human ashes typically weigh 2 to 4 kilos.

How are ashes prepared?

The temperature in the cremation chamber can reach up to 1000 degrees. As the body enters the incinerator, the heat causes the water stored in the body and organs to evaporate. Once the body and the coffin have been completely cremated, the remains are left to cool.

After that, the technician carefully removes any nails from the coffin, bone fragments, fillings, hip joints etc. from the rest of the ashes. After they cool off, the technician typically crushes any remaining bone fragments to a more consistent particle size.

What happens to teeth?

Teeth and bones are different from bone by nature. Your teeth are hard on the outside and soft on the inside. The pulp within the teeth dissolves during the cremation process. Even if the enamel is still present, the technician will crush it along with the bones.

As for dental crowns and fillings, although they could survive the cremation process, the crematory will typically remove them from the ashes. You can then collect these items or ask the crematorium to take care of them.

Do human ashes have a smell?

Occasionally, people claim to be able to smell something faintly metallic. However, it's more likely that the ashes will have no scent at all.

Can you get DNA from ashes?

The short answer is that it might be possible, but it isn’t easy.

You can get a DNA sample from burned ashes, so if any pieces of bone or teeth are in the ashes, it's not impossible. However, since modern cremation involves the grinding of remaining teeth and bones to  a uniform consistency, it can be challenging to locate pieces large enough to complete the process.

Are ashes safe to handle?

You have nothing to worry about if you touch human ashes.

You may find minute amounts of minerals like salt and potassium in human ashes. Salt is primarily composed of sodium. Foods such as spinach, bananas, potatoes, and broccoli contain potassium - it's actually a nutritious mineral.

Just know the ashes are likely to stick to your skin if you graze them. So, if you need to handle the ashes, it’s best to wear gloves or spread some paper or plastic out to make cleaning up easier.

What can you do with ashes?

Apart from keeping ashes in an urn on the mantle or scattering them in a sentimental place, there are many unique things that can be done with them. Some people might choose to put some of the ashes in a pendant or other keepsake or even turn them into a cremation diamond which can be passed onto future generations as an heirloom.

Wrap up

There really is no correct choice when it comes to what you do with the ashes of a loved one. Ultimately, it's what is in our hearts that remains. The memories of a life well lived fill our lives with laughter and love. After all, life is not about how long it is; it's about how we live!

Planning for the future can save your loved one money, time and stress, when the time comes. If you'd like to prepay your cremation, contact the team at Willed on 1300 945 533 or willed.com.au.

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