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cremation cremains

Differences in colour, weight and consistency of cremation ashes

Below is a bit morbid, but a lady (well actually the lady’s mother) was perplexed enough to ask the question, so it is obviously of interest. The question and answer came from the website Allexperts.com and as far as I can verify seems a very plausible explanation, after all the chap is an expert…

The lady’s grandmother passed away and when her ashes we scattered the family noticed they were very dark in colour, there was a large volume, but light in density.

When she came to scatter her grandfather’s they noted a significant difference his ashes. They were a light cream colour, powdery like burnt paper ashes, very little volume, but they were very heavy.

The family wondered why. The granddaughter described the grandmother very obese, who had lost a leg and the other had been fused with a metal rod in the knee, she was diabetic and on several medications. Whereas she explained her grandfather was underweight, an alcoholic, on a heart medication, although otherwise healthy.

The answer was posted by Erin Phelps

“Your Grandmother’s cremated remains were very dark most likely because of the volume of adipose tissue, due to her being morbidly obese, which could have left a stain on the cremated remains. The difference in weight was probably due to the fact that an obese person will cremate at a much higher temperature, again due to the adipose tissue, and the skeletal remains (Which is what the bulk of the cremated remains consist of) which have been cremated at a very high temperature and for much longer of a time, thus leaving them less dense.

Your Grandfather’s cremated remains were lighter in colour due to the lack of adipose tissue and weighed more do to the cremation temperature being lower and for less time. Thus making them more dense.

The difference in consistency may be due to different processing machines pulverizing the cremated remains before they were placed in the container.”

So there you go, in case you wondered…And here is me thinking Adipose was an Episode from Dr Who!

Addendum: We have been informed that this may not always be reason for the darkness in colour, a lady kindly informed us that in her particular situation: the ashes we dark in nature, yet the deceased was lean in build. So it is apparent there may be other reasons for the colouration.

55 thoughts on “Differences in colour, weight and consistency of cremation ashes

  1. Reply
    Jay - 16th March 2022

    Is there an explanation for a person’s ashes being pure white and a weight of 10lbs? I thought it might be quite unusual. The person was a middle-aged male at least 30lbs overweight at the time of his death and considerably heavier than that throughout his life.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 22nd March 2022

      Dear Jay
      The colour is due to the combustion process, we see very white ashes from time to time. 10lbs does seem rather heavy although not exceptional. Broad big men who are heavy can result in a lot of ashes.
      Kind regards

  2. Reply
    Melanie - 20th March 2021

    Hi! My friend bought an antique metal pitcher from a thrift store. He kept hearing something in the bottom of it and noticed it seemed to have a sealed compartment. He thought maybe there was rust inside he needed to clear out. When he pried it open, there was a small plastic bag wrapped in newspaper. Inside the bag is this white and gray colored substance, almost pebble in consistency, but some powder like at the bottom. Does this sound like cremains? We can’t think of what else it would be.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 22nd March 2021

      Dear Melanie

      That is exactly what it sounds like to me!

      Kind regards

  3. Reply
    Anet Tidwell - 1st August 2020

    My cats remains look like charcoal with soot! Have had 7 other pets cremated and they are all light gray or off white.. also the last one that looks like charcoal is twice the size of remains and the cat was half the size of all other cremated pets- I’m devasted on why…

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 5th August 2020

      That does sound very odd, have you spoken the crematoria about it? I would take it up with them and see what they say.

      1. Reply
        Karen - 9th October 2020

        I lost my dad in 2015, I had some of his ashes sent to me as there was a distance of 200 miles and even though I went to the funeral, I didn’t have the chance to see the funeral director where my dad was taken and his wife handled that side of things. When I got the ashes they were like small peaces of charcoal dark grey to light grey, and not that I took it out of the urn, there didn’t seem to be anything that looked like power, at the time I just thought that was normal, my dad had been in hospital with having end of life care he had only found out 4 weeks earlier that he had leukaemia and was told he had 3 to 4wks to live, he had type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer too, so my question is was the remains normal, he wasn’t overly over weight and would like to get some peace of mind on this… Hope to hear back soon

        1. Reply
          Richard Martin - 12th October 2020

          Dear Karen
          Without seeing them it is difficult to say, but there can be a large variation in colour and consistency. What you have described could well be ashes.
          I hope this brings some piece of mind.
          Kind regards

  4. Reply
    Shy - 17th July 2020

    I’m really glad I found you maybe you can answer my question. These are two completely different creamatories and years apart and two completely different sides of the family. My husband’s mom passed away in 2001 she was 400 plus pounds do to her thyroid. She passed from extreme sepsis during a C-section an intern didn’t have a doctor or nurse present and he sliced her large intestine and didn’t tell anyone and closed her back up. She lingered for a long time on antibiotics and her other medications until she was removed from life support. I’m not sure of what her creamation process entailed but when my husband’s little key chain broke when I saw her ashes I was confused. Her ashes look like ground up charcoal with small bits of bone flakes. I considered that it was her sepsis that made it do bad. They couldn’t run her blood through the machine to clean it she broke three machines her blood was do bad.

    The second one is my mother she just recently passed this passed June and her ashes are almost a silvery gray color nearly close to her silver gray hair. She had way more dark hair than gray. She died of non virus related pneumonia was on antibiotics for 3 weeks prior to being in the hospital where she had more antibiotics. She was on medication for fluid retention, congestive heart failure, breathing medications for her asthma and copd, insulin for her diabetes, oxygen for copd, medication for her chronic body pains and neuropathy, anxiety medication, and medication for her frequent her gets. She was about 220 to 240 pounds in weight and she wasn’t cremated in a casket. She had a knee replacement done maybe 7 years ago. Her clothing was a peachy punk shirt with a pink and brown flower design and brown pants, a tan bra, purple or greenish blue panties, and black socks. I haven’t yet opened them to divide them up but they look like fluffy crafting sand if that makes sense and are kind of heavy. I don’t know if there’s any color bits in them. Do you know why these ashes turned out the way they did.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 20th July 2020

      Dear Shy
      I can only surmise from what you have told me but your mothers appear standard, clothing can impact the colour but that is mainly from leather, the texture is to do with way the ashes were processed after cremation. You mother-in-laws could result from her weight which could have had an impact on standard combustion. As you will see from the above there are is a huge array and reason for ashes looking the way they do. I hope this helps.

  5. Reply
    Pam L - 28th February 2020

    There were very small bits of something turquoise in my mother’s ashes. I wondered if it came from gold fillings in the teeth?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 2nd March 2020

      Dear Pam
      I think it is unlikely gold would cause that as it is inert. I believe such colours may be caused other items cremated at the same time eg leather in footwear.
      Kind regards

  6. Reply
    James - 1st January 2020

    hello my girlfriend of ten years passed away November 20, 2019. I had her cremated and most of her ash is a nice egg shell off white color. and I found one of those red pieces but thanks to you I now know that it was not part of her ashes. I had to separate her ashes for family and myself, while I was doing this I came across some pieces that were very pretty but odd. one piece looked like light green emerald it had three little holes in it but very much looks like a stone. also there were a few pieces that looked more like an opal very iridescent. I had the funeral home take of the only thing she had on and she was cremated in a plain cardboard box. she was 32 years old, just this last August did we find out that she had metastatic breast cancer. the only other thing we a couple dark pieces but those I’m pretty sure are possibly teeth cause the depo shot made her teeth crumble which of course turned black.

  7. Reply
    kim ochipa - 29th September 2019

    When referring to cremated remains, and color… can cremains be colored with substances such as food coloring or spices such as cumin or cinnamon? Are there any that would destroy the natural calcium-sodium-potassium mixture? Can they be mixed with fine glitter before spreading them at ceremonies, or just to keep in a beautiful clear urn?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 30th September 2019

      Dear Kim
      I am afraid I don’t really know, I would imagine that it would be possible as I doubt the spices would destroy the ashes – there would be none that are that acidic.
      Yes I am sure they could be mixed with glitter, but I would recommend finding a glitter that is biodegradable as glitter these days is made from plastic, which should not be spread on the ground. You can keep them in an urn if you wish too.
      I hope this helps.

    2. Reply
      Anita - 22nd November 2020

      Hi I lost my dad 7 months ago when his cremated remains came back the white bag was almost full and was 11 days before I got his ashes back, 3 weeks ago my mum died both mum and dad were small framed had the same coffin and just a couple of photos with them and mums cremated remain was not very full at all any idea to why please

      1. Reply
        Richard Martin - 23rd November 2020

        Dear Anita

        This isn’t uncommon, without wishing to be indelicate, it is more common for bone mass destiny to be greater within men. Men tend to produce more ashes on average even when people are of similar build.

        Kind regards

  8. Reply
    Norma - 1st September 2019

    My daughters ashes are light pink is there a reason why light whitish pink?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 5th September 2019

      Dear Norma
      I will be honest I have not come across that before, if it is very light tinge then I would suspect it is to do with the outfit she may have worn eg a pigment in leather shoes. But in truth that would be guesswork. Sorry.

  9. Reply
    Michelle - 21st July 2019

    I read most of the post and none come close.. My mother recently passed from cancer of the palate which is a horrible way to go.. She had it for a long time without even knowing we just noticed she stopped eating an would find excuses like it has to do with shingles she got from bee sting on forehead or the dentist messed up her teeth, etc.. im sorry for going on its just i finally understand now why she didnt eat.. my poor mother suffered for years cuz she was afraid a dr would tell her bad news she already felt an we just thought she didnt want to eat to ruin her buzz cuz she could drink still till her last 6mo.. now my question is why did her ashes glow of florescent green as soon as it touched the river?? and it stayed ina sworm like cloud under water for like 5min drifting away.. i have a video of it an pix i wish i could show it but we all just said shes saying thank you an i love you and shes happy but say there has to be more.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 25th July 2019

      Dear Michelle
      Difficult to say, it looks as if there could have been a chemical reaction or disturbance of microbiological forms living in the water body. There are a lot of factors to consider: type of waterbody and catchment even the size of the ash particles. Whatever is was I am glad it made for a more wonderful ceremony.

    2. Reply
      Erick Mills - 18th September 2019

      Ok I had my oldest brother cremated and his ashes or creamy color cocaine in 15 months later I had my middle brother cremated and he is completely black and they wasn’t no more than 10 lb apart and size and weight and they both weight was about 170 to 180

      1. Reply
        Richard Martin - 19th September 2019

        Were they cremated at the same crematoria? We received lots of ashes back and the ashes from the same crematoria seem reasonably consistent but vary lots from one to the other.

    3. Reply
      Mercedes Belfield - 29th June 2020

      My son 44 was cremated his ashes are pale sand color and lots of white.

  10. Reply
    Jennifer - 13th March 2019

    My husband 44 and fit no fat his ashes came back like ground up black coal my 22 year old son was obese and his ashes were grey and normal looking both were cremated at same place 3weeks apart can you please explain the difference thank you Jennifer golebiewski

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 13th March 2019

      Dear Jennifer
      This sounds very distressing. I am not sure I can explain, but if the place was the same and the time period was close. Then it can only be another of other factors what you husband was wearing when he was cremated, was it a different style of coffin? Both these factors add different material into the process. It could be that the when your husband was cremated the oven was slightly manfunctioning. I am afraid that is as close as I can get.
      Kind regards

      1. Reply
        Hardy - 24th February 2020

        You don’t know squat

        1. Reply
          Richard Martin - 25th February 2020

          Dear Hardy
          Thank you for pithy and unambiguous input.

  11. Reply
    lyn lucas - 27th December 2018

    My neighbor ashes is green can u pls explain how its comes..???thank you

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 4th January 2019

      Hi Lyn
      It is difficult to say for certain however green can arise from leather tannins, so if your neighbour was cremated wearing shoes, as most people are, then the colour could have arisen from this.

  12. Reply
    Alison - 29th July 2018

    Hi . Can you please help me understand why my sons ashes are all i can say us cat litter i had never seen ashes until lost my son so rhought it was normal until this morning when we opened my mum and step dads to take them to scatter their ashes are a different colour and alot finer . This as quiet upset me with my boys been sifferent

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 30th July 2018

      Dear Alison

      Please don’t be upset, this is perfectly normal. There can be wide differences in colour and granularity. The variations are down to the process used at the crematoria, the body and the coffin. Without wishing to go into too much detail: the heat, the way the remains are reduced, the material of the coffin and a person’s weight and age all have an impact. I will elucidate further if you wish, but I am conscious I don’t want to make things any worse.
      Kind reagrds

      1. Reply
        SAMANTHA A Parker - 13th August 2019

        My question is similar in regards to this.
        I have never in my life seen Remains “ashes” until my father passed away.
        Recently I have received these back and they are similar to this kitty litter gravel type. Its whit grey brown and black and Im a little confused as to if this is how they should be. Yes he was obese.

        1. Reply
          Richard Martin - 29th August 2019

          Ashes vary in colour (white, greenish and the colours you have mentioned) and size depending on the type of cremator, temperature, duration and the process by which they are reduced. The weight issue will make a difference as discussed above. I hope this helps.

  13. Reply
    Jan Lewis - 18th June 2018

    My sisters ashes were white and very granular. She had donated her body to a medical school for research and they kept it for about 18 months and then she was cremated. What could have caused this?

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 19th June 2018

      Dear Jan
      It is likely to be down to the cremation process I would have thought, the heat used and then the type of process used for reducing the bone matter into an ashes form, you will see from other comments that one of the previous correspondents (Mike) has specific knowledge in this area so he may be more illuminating.
      Kind regards

  14. Reply
    Jeannine dukes - 23rd February 2018

    My estranged sister became sentimental and shared our late sisters ashes with me 4yrs after her death. My family became sceptical when we saw her ashes. There is light gray “sand” as well as slightly larger white “shards”, assumably bone fragments, and strangly reddish “shards” as well. We have never encountered tri colored ashes before and worry they may not be authentic. I believe her intentions were good ones but worry they aren’t real human remains. – a sadly sceptical sibling

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 26th February 2018

      Without seeing them it is very difficult to tell. And even there are many variants possible. I am aware that green colour can arise from leather tannins. We have come across instances where there have been ash substitution but these are extremely rare even when families are not together any more. One option might be to contact your local crematorium and ask if they might have a look for you, they are likely to have seen the range of colours and coarseness that can occur.

  15. Reply
    Gill - 24th January 2018

    Can I ask why a 21 week still born ashes would come back like black soot out of a chimney .
    Sorry to ask but I really need to know why this has happened

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 24th January 2018

      Dear Gill
      I am very sorry for the loss that you have suffered, the answer is quite a delicate one. What you will have received back is what has been collected by the crematorium. The ashes do not look like an adults cremation ashes because they essentially all bone matter. In the case on stillborn and premature babies the bone has not yet fully formed and are similar to cartilage in make up at that stage, which when cremated will leave only a little ash, or sometimes none at all. I hope this has been some use, best wishes, Richard

    2. Reply
      Name - 25th January 2018

      Ill just begin by saying that there is usually very little in the way of cremated remains/ashes if anything at all. especially with the cremation of a little ones less then 500 grams or under 20 weeks gestation. One of the reasons being, is that the bones haven’t ossified (cartilage to bone) yet. As a matter of fact, most Canadian Division Registers for deaths and births, classify anything less then 20weeks gestation or 500 grams as a non registible death.
      Getting back to the question of why black and sooty looking ashes? This is most likely the result of the little one being cremation in a plastic container. Unlike an adult cremation, babies are usually cremated immediately following the cremation of a adult when the retort (oven) is hot. The cremator is turn off to prevent the blower from blowing around what little remains. So often, soot appears because of hard plastics and especially styrofoam and since the blower fan is off, there is no fan to dissipate the soot and not quite enough heat to burn it off as carbon.

      1. Reply
        Richard Martin - 25th January 2018

        Dear Mike
        Thank you once again for your insight and knowledge.
        Kind regards

  16. Reply
    Julia Lee - 23rd September 2017

    My father ashes was white mixed with red colour. I would like to know why there is red ashes in it and
    not purely white.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 25th September 2017

      Dear Julia. I am afraid I can’t give you a definitive answer. I think the answer might lie in what you dressed your father in for his cremation, as the colour is highly likely to have originated from an item he wore, one previous respondent had come across green originating from leather, so it could something like that? Regards Richard

      1. Reply
        Julia Lee - 25th September 2017

        Dear Richard,

        I worry the red colour may imply that my late father is not peacefully died.
        He may have some wishes that he wanted his children to fulfill as none
        of his children was at his bedside when he passed away. It may seem to
        you that I am superstitious but I just want to assure that he had a peaceful

        1. Reply
          Richard Martin - 25th September 2017

          Dear Julia, I can understand your worry, such things can play on people’s minds. However, colour variation happens all the time, it is caused through a chemical reaction and heat. I would not think it represented anything other than a scientific process. So please try not worry. Kind regards Richard

      2. Reply
        mike - 26th September 2017

        The red mixed in with your fathers cremated remains, is most likely residue refactory brick from the cremator. This comes about when the operator of the crematorium is sweeping the ashes out of the chamber with a steel wire brush attached to a long metal pole. Ive seen this quite often, especially when the cremator machine is in dire need of a rebuild.

        1. Reply
          Richard Martin - 26th September 2017

          Mike thanks once again for coming to the rescue. Much appreciated. Regards Richard

  17. Reply
    Mike - 12th September 2017

    Dark ashes are usually caused by low cremation temperature and not enough time on the cremator. Everything that goes into the cremator is burnt off as carbon and what is left are bone fragments, but with insufficient heat and time, carbon is left behind creating dark ashes during the processing part.

    1. Reply
      Richard Martin - 13th September 2017

      Very informative Mike thank you for input – really helpful, I had never heard of the issue with leather before either.

  18. Reply
    D h - 31st March 2017

    Info welcomed

  19. Reply
    Name - 31st March 2017

    My grandfathers ashes came to me from funeral home a garden hose variety brilliant blue / green. I called and got 3 ridiculous call back responses. 1. Maybe the vitamins he took. 2. Possible fillings in his mouth. 3. Finally the head guy ” we don’t know”. Do u have an explanation? Still haven’t spread him and I am sure will cause family illness / and shock when do… Please reply. Thanku

    1. Reply
      Richard - 10th April 2017


      I have come across this only once before. Whilst I can’t speak with any certainty I hope the following may be of some use in understanding what the cause might be. The colouring is likely to have derived from a metal that was present at the time of cremation. The metal is have could potentially have originated from coffin or from within the body. Was the coffin quite ornate? Was there much metalwork on or in its construction? Alternatively did your Grandfather have any implants eg a hip, as this may be a source – these are removed after cremation. Another thing worth checking (although I accept that is may be unpleasant / distressing) is to look closely at a number of ash grains themselves, if the colour is only on one side or predominantly on one side of the grain this would also imply that this colouring happened during cremation as opposed to when they were reduced to their granular size. I hope this is of some help.

    2. Reply
      Jill - 17th July 2017

      My father’s ashes look almost white, but he has bright blue flecks as well. His ashes are actually quite beautiful. My grandparents were gray and almost a urine, dingy yellow.

    3. Reply
      Mike - 12th September 2017

      I’m a cremator and funeral director. The only time that I’ve seen the cremated remains take on a greenish hue is if leather was cremated with the individual, the tannins in the leather cause this colour change.

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