What are Cremated Human Ashes Like?

Asurnipal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The ashes left behind after cremation can be a beautiful and poetic reminder of your loved one. But they’re also an important part of the memorialization process. Therefore, it’s important to know what they look and smell like before you get them back from the crematorium. With this article we’re answering this simple question: what are human cremated ashes like?

What is cremation?

We refer to the process of burning human remains as “cremation”.

 Many people believe cremation is simply a basic form of final disposition. It’s important to note that it is actually much more than that. Cremation provides families an opportunity to honor the memory of their loved one. It also saves them money by eliminating traditional burial costs, such as caskets, embalming and ground burial plots.

The terms “cremated ashes” and “cremains” refer to the result after the process of cremation is over. These are the ashes that relatives can collect from the crematorium and use for memorialization ceremonies. Such ceremonies include scattering at sea or in gardens or memorial parks.

What are ashes?

When you think of ashes, you might think of something like a fine dust. But in reality, cremated ashes are more like a gritty powder with varying degrees of coarseness. The texture and appearance of cremated ash may vary.

Bones consist largely of minerals like calcium phosphate. As a result there will be some mineral content in any type of cremated remains. Our bodies are mostly water when we die—about 70 percent. There are exceptions for people who have died from certain illnesses or been exposed to toxic materials before death (like chemotherapy). In any case most cremation machines can easily handle even larger remains. How large or small your loved one’s body is doesn’t really matter. It generally shouldn’t be an issue unless someone is very tall or obese (or both).

When it comes down to it: ashes aren’t dirty-looking pieces. They are rather tiny fragments broken off during the burning process! And don’t worry about cleaning them out. They’ll still look just as good when they’re inside their little container!

The color of human ashes

The color of human ashes can vary greatly depending on the metal content of the bones. For example, if you live in a city that has factories nearby, your ashes may have a darker hue. This is due to all the minerals and metal your body has absorbed throughout the year. If you grew up in the countryside, your ashes may have a lighter grey hue.

The consistency of human ashes

Human ashes are usually fine and kind of powdery. They don’t have the same texture as fireplace ashes, which are often heavier and coarser. When you take a handful of human ashes in your hand, they will feel like sand or sandpaper. Wood ash feels often coarser like charcoal instead.

What happens if the deceased has dental implants or artificial joints?

Maybe you have a family member or friend who had dental implants or artificial joints.

These items are composed of metal and are not biodegradable. As a result they may be cremated with the body but they will not melt. But they won’t be part of the ashes that the family gets after cremation either. Any decent crematory will ask the grieving family what they should do with these implants. The family can then choose to take them with the ashes or dispose of them.

The smell of human ashes

If you think about it, human ashes are actually odorless. That’s because they’re made up of bone fragments and other non-organic matter. In some cases there could be a metallic smell coming from them. Some say that could be due to any metal implants in the body at the time of cremation. An example of that could be a pacemaker.

The weight of human ashes

The weight of the human ashes is between 4,5 to 9 lbs (2 to 4 kilos). It depends on many factors such as the height and weight of the deceased. That’s probably more than what most people would expect.

Safety concerns about human ashes

The safest way to do keep your loved one’s ashes is by placing them in a dedicated urn. You can then display the urn prominently in your home or in a special spot outside.

Human cremated ashes are non-toxic and safe to handle without gloves or other protective gear. However, because of their powdery nature, it’s best not to put them near any machinery or electronics. Just as you wouldn’t want dust on your desktop computer keyboard!

There are no health risks associated with handling human ashes. However some people may find that they’re messy or difficult to contain or transfer them to a new container. You won’t want your pet eating them by accident. Nor would you want an unsuspecting visitor walking through an ash cloud with bare feet! Before settling on any permanent storage solution for these precious remains, make sure you keep them safe.

Final Thoughts

The cremation process is a delicate one, and the end result should be handled with care. The ashes are sacred to the deceased and their family members, so it’s important that they’re treated with dignity. This can mean keeping them in a safe place where they won’t get too much exposure to sunlight or excess heat. This also makes sure that other people don’t handle them unless there’s an emergency situation requiring it.

In case you’re actually planning ahead for your own cremation, we recommend you have a look at our Funeral Plan. This is just a small part of Myend’s end-of-life services. Curious to see for yourself? Sign up today completely free of charge!

Navigating Terminal Illness

Download our Guide with 10 tips for those dealing with a terminal illness, or for loved ones supporting someone who is terminally ill.

Free End of Life planner

Sign up to receive our free checklist to help you get started with your End of Life Plan
Previous slide
Next slide

Organize, store, and share all the life-essential information in one place.


Myend is not a law firm, it does not engage in the practice of law, and it does not render any official legal advice. Therefore, you are hereby advised to seek your own legal counsel regarding any legal issues. Myend’s articles are meant to be taken as suggestions and therefore Myend carries no responsibility for the user’s actions.