What can you put in a coffin for cremation?

A lot of people choose to put something special in their loved one’s coffin, but not everything’s allowed. So what can you include and what should you leave out?

There are a few rules to consider

Exactly what you can put in a coffin will depend on what’s going to happen to it after the funeral. There are not usually any restrictions on what you can include if your loved one is being buried in a traditional grave, vault, or mausoleum — that’s a free-standing building which holds people’s coffins (either above ground in sealed stone boxes, or buried beneath the floor). But if your loved one is having a woodland burial, or being cremated, certain things are not allowed - either because they could damage the environment or become dangerous when they’re heated up. 

The same rules apply whether you've decided to have a cardboard coffin or a more traditional funeral coffin. The only difference in your choice of casket is how long the cremation will take.

There are plenty of things you can put in a coffin for cremation

And you can also choose for your loved one to wear their favourite pieces of clothing or accessories. There are a few exceptions to what can stay in a coffin or casket for a cremation but here are some ideas for things you might like to include. 

  • Photos - of your loved one’s family and friends, moments that were special to them, or anything else you think they might have liked.  

  • Letters - like love letters from their life, or farewell notes from their friends and family.

  • Flowers - either dried bouquets from a special occasion like their wedding, or a new arrangement of their favourite blooms. 

  • Teddies, toys or blankets - this can feel especially important when a child or baby has died. 

  • Religious items - like scripture, prayer beads, or articles of faith like a Kangha (the wooden comb Sikhs use twice a day). 

  • Cremation ashes - of someone who was very close to your loved one, like a spouse or parent. You can then decide what to do with the combined ashes

Anything else they loved - like their favourite book, snack or musical instrument. Talk to your funeral director to make sure there’s enough space in the coffin, and that your choices are allowed.

You might want to hold onto special jewellery

You can put jewellery inside a coffin with your loved one but it’s likely to melt once the casket reaches the cremation chamber. So if the piece is really special to you, you might want to ask for it to be removed after the funeral and given back to you.

If you do choose to leave jewellery in the coffin for the cremation, it's sometimes possible to separate the metal from the cremated remains after the process is complete. But it will probably be misshapen and mixed in with other things. If you do not want the metal back, most crematoria will sell it and give the money to charity.

And there are certain things that cannot be cremated

That’s because they react to heat in a way that’s dangerous, unpredictable, or harmful to the environment. You can still put them in your loved one’s coffin for the funeral, but they’ll be taken out before the cremation and given back to you. If you want your loved one to be dressed for the funeral in a material that cannot be cremated, that’s fine, too. Again, the clothes will be given back to you, or donated to charity if you’d prefer. Here’s what is not allowed in a coffin for a cremation:

  • Anything combustible - like bottles of alcohol, or lighters

  • Pacemakers - they’re removed before funerals because they can explode during cremation 

  • Anything made from treated materials like leather, latex and vinyl - they can release fumes that are harmful to the environment

  • Jars or bottles made from plastic or glass

  • Anything that might have air trapped inside - like coconuts (believe it or not)

  • Anything with a battery in it - like mobiles or e-cigarettes

Your loved one's body is kept in the coffin for cremation

Which means the coffin will be cremated, too. After the funeral, the crematorium staff will check that nothing has been left in the coffin that shouldn’t be there. If you’d like to know more, we’ve created a guide that explains the cremation process in detail.

There are fewer rules for burials (unless it’s a green burial)

If your loved one is having a burial in a traditional grave, mausoleum or vault, you can usually put whatever you want inside or on top of the coffin. Your funeral director will let you know if there are any exceptions. But if your loved one is having a green burial at a natural burial site, the coffin (and everything in it) will need to be made of natural materials like paper, cardboard, cotton or wool. These materials will eventually biodegrade - breaking down and becoming part of the soil without damaging it. This rule means that you cannot include:

  • Photos

  • Clothes made from any man-made fabrics - that includes things like the thread, lining, buttons and zips

  • Anything else made from man-made materials like metal, glass, or plastic.

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