How long does a cremation take?

- 13/10/21

One of the questions we get asked a lot is ‘how long does a cremation take?’. Luckily, it’s easy to answer. With over 30 years’ experience behind us helping to prove exemplary funeral care to families across the UK, we’ve learned a thing or two about what happens at a cremation.

Typically, it takes 1-3 hours for a body to be cremated and then depending on whether you are having an unattended cremation or a cremation with attendees**, the duration of the cremation service will vary. To help you understand the process better, here’s a step-by-step guide to what you can expect, from start to finish, from a cremation funeral.

How long is an attended cremation service?

Arriving at the chapel

If you’re attending a cremation, you should aim to arrive at the chapel around 10 to 20 minutes before the funeral is due to start. For many, especially those with larger families and social circles, a funeral can be akin to a reunion. Arriving early allows people to greet each other before the deceased’s funeral procession arrives.

Entering the chapel

When the deceased and their family arrive, they’ll lead the entry into the crematorium. When they’re ready, entry to the chapel will begin. At the head of the procession, the service leader and the deceased’s pallbearers will carry the coffin, followed by the immediate family, then the attending mourners. The coffin will be placed on a raised platform at the head of the congregation, ready for the service, while the attendees take their seats.

However, this can vary – for example, direct cremations have no procession or pallbearers who lead the coffin in. Rather, the coffin will already be resting at the head of the chapel before any mourners arrive.

Arriving at the chapel

If you’re attending a cremation, you should aim to arrive at the chapel around 10 to 20 minutes before the funeral is due to start. For many, especially those with larger families and social circles, a funeral can be akin to a reunion. Arriving early allows people to greet each other before the deceased’s funeral procession arrives.

Entering the chapel

When the deceased and their family arrive, they’ll lead the entry into the crematorium. When they’re ready, entry to the chapel will begin. At the head of the procession, the service leader and the deceased’s pallbearers will carry the coffin, followed by the immediate family, then the attending mourners. The coffin will be placed on a raised platform at the head of the congregation, ready for the service, while the attendees take their seats.

However, this can vary – for example, direct cremations have no procession or pallbearers who lead the coffin in. Rather, the coffin will already be resting at the head of the chapel before any mourners arrive.

The cremation service

Cremation services usually last between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on what the family has chosen. The service will usually open with a few words from the service leader, usually a family member or celebrant. During the service people may stand to read a few words about the deceased, share stories of their experiences together or read poetry in their honour. Singing is also common during a funeral service, either traditional hymns or a special song chosen by the family or the deceased.

Ending the service

Before the service ends, the service leader will say a few more words and one of the chapel attendants will draw curtains around the coffin as a final piece of music plays. At this point you’ll be asked to leave the chapel, behind the service leader and the close family of the deceased.

Outside the chapel, the close family of the deceased will usually form a receiving line, allowing attendees to offer their condolences directly to the family. If there’s a wake held after the funeral, people will usually make their way straight to the venue after briefly speaking to other guests outside the chapel.

How long after a funeral is the body cremated?

Once all of the deceased’s mourners have left the chapel, the chapel attendants will begin preparations for the cremation process. The coffin will be carefully removed from its viewing platform and taken behind through to the crematorium’s cremator room.

How long does it take to cremate a body?

In the cremator room, the coffin will be respectfully committed to the cremator to be burned which takes about two hours to complete.

What happens to the ashes after the Cremation?

When the cremator has finished, crematorium assistants will remove all ashes, fragments and metals left behind into a container. During the cremation process, some unburnt remains are completely normal, like large bone fragments. These are all gathered up and taken to a specialised machine within the crematorium to be turned to the powder-like ashes we’re more familiar with.

After this the initial container is sorted through to remove any metals that weren’t able to be burnt, such as nails and screws from the coffin. Once all of the metals have been removed, the remaining ashes and fragments are placed into a specialised ash processing machine which grinds everything to a fine sand-like consistency. While in the care of the crematorium staff, the coffin of the deceased will receive a unique badge, with those details checked at every step of the way, ensuring that the ashes you receive are indeed those of your loved one. When the ashes are ready, they’re placed into a simple urn, clearly labelled, and placed in waiting, ready to be collected.

How long after the cremation can the ashes be collected?

If you’ve chosen to have the deceased’s ashes returned to you following the cremation, you’ll be contacted as soon as they’re ready. Depending on what you’ve agreed prior to the funeral, you can either collect the ashes yourself from the crematorium or funeral directors or have them delivered to you at home.

Alternatively, you can ask the crematorium to scatter the deceased’s ashes on your behalf if they have the facilities to do so.

Altogether, a cremation can take as little as one hour to a day-long celebration. It all comes down to the individual and what funeral plans they and their family had in place. For many, a cremation allows for the funeral to be a more personal affair, with the ashes being returned to the deceased’s loved ones at a later date to scatter or keep as a memento.

Distinct Cremations is a trading name of Distinct Cremations Limited I Registered in England, No. 13366310 and Distinct Funeral Plans Limited (Prepaid Funeral plan provider) I Registered in England, No. 13366327 | Registered Office Westerleigh Crematorium, Westerleigh Road, Bristol BS37 8QP | Part of the Westerleigh Group |