Understanding Different Types of Cremation

What are the two main types of cremation?

Traditionally, cremation has involved a cremation furnace and extreme heat. You can read all about the process here.

In recent years, however, flameless cremation has gained in popularity. Also called water cremation, liquid cremation, aquamation or alkaline hydrolysis, the process patented in 1888 involves a nontoxic solution of 95% water and 5% sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, heat and a pressurized chamber. After a couple of hours, only the bones of a loved one remain. The bones are then ground to a fine powder before being returned to the family.

An individual or family may choose water cremation over traditional cremation for a few reasons:

  1. It's seen as a gentler method.
  2. It's more environmentally friendly, with a lower carbon footprint.
  3. Some people are afraid of fire.
  4. Some people naturally gravitate toward new things.

Where is water cremation available?

Water cremation isn't available in every state or province. As of October 2021, 21 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces allow water cremation.

In the United States:


US water cremation map



In Canada:


Canada water cremation map


The Cremation Association of North America has the most current map.

However, just because alkaline hydrolysis is legal in an area doesn't mean that a state or province has a provider that offers it. Though it's not new, it's still not widely available, and most funeral homes and crematories simply aren't set up to do water cremations yet.

What is a witness cremation?

Some families want to watch and even participate in their loved one's cremation, and some religious groups include witnessing a cremation as part of their funeral customs.

Many modern crematories include a place for a few family members to gather before the cremation and say a final goodbye. Those family members can then watch through a window as the crematory operator starts the cremation process. Some crematories even allow a family member to push the button that starts the process.

Some families find that witnessing their loved one's cremation gives them a sense of closure. Others say it makes them more comfortable with their choice to cremate their loved one.



Get A Guide for Families Choosing Cremation

Learn what you need to know to choose the best provider for your family’s needs.

What kinds of memorial services can take place with cremation?

For many, the most significant benefit of choosing cremation is that it allows for greater flexibility in funeral and cemetery arrangements. A tribute can be held before or after the cremation has taken place and with or without the casket or urn present. The service itself can be as simple or elaborate as a family wishes and should reflect the life and passions of the person being honored.

  • A cremation with a funeral service. A funeral precedes the cremation and often includes embalming the loved one for a viewing at a visitation or the funeral. Then the funeral service takes place. A reception could follow this. And then, instead of burying the loved one, the family has a loved one cremated. They can choose to memorialize their loved one at a cemetery, take the ashes home or scatter the ashes in a personally meaningful place. There are many options.

    Families who make this choice are often those who prefer to follow more traditional rituals.

  • A cremation with a memorial service or celebration of life. This option is popular because it allows a family the most flexibility. The service can take place before, immediately following, or long after the cremation. The latter allows for more planning and for relatives and friends who have to travel to make plans. A loved one's urn may be present, and if the family has opted for cemetery memorialization, a funeral procession to the cemetery may follow.

    Families who make this choice may be less traditional in their choices.

Cremation funerals and memorials can be held in a wide array of places, from modern funeral homes and cemeteries to restaurants, beaches, mountaintops, parks, piers—really any place of significance for the loved one and the family. None of these is better than the other. They simply reflect personal preferences. Read about the costs of a service with cremation.

What is direct or simple cremation?

Direct cremation, also called simple cremation, is a choice that includes just the basics and often happens shortly after death and without embalming. Cost is often the reason people choose a simple cremation. It is the least expensive option. However, the adage "you get what you pay for" couldn't be more true than when it comes to the services cremation providers offer.

Though it's true that a simple cremation provider will have a loved one cremated and return ashes to the family, some families find the unknowns troubling. Not every cremation provider treats every person with the dignity and respect we insist upon. Nor does every provider take the extreme measures we do to ensure the loved ones we bring into our care are the same loved ones we return to families. Choosing a Dignity Memorial® provider can eliminate worries such as chain of custody.

What's more, some families discover that even after a simple cremation, they'd like a service of some kind to help relatives and friends say goodbye. Though simple cremation will cost less than a cremation with a viewing and a celebration of life, many families have discovered the latter is a way of creating priceless and healing memories.


Can you pre-plan for a cremation?

Yes, you can pre-plan for a cremation—and cremation cemetery property. When you plan ahead, you make your wishes known—but you also ease the way for the people who love you. Though you can’t protect your family from grief, you can help ease their burden.

And when you plan with a Dignity Memorial provider, you get a range of unmatched benefits, including national transferability (move and your plan moves with you) and a 100% Service Guarantee.

Read more about prepaid cremation options and why prepaid plans are the best gift.

There are things everyone needs to know before planning a funeral or cremation memorial. Get the facts with The Insider's Guide to Funeral & Cremation Planning.