Cremation Urns: What Are They Made Of?

By Liz Mathers

Sand Quartz Biodegradable Cremation Urn

The design of a cremation urn or keepsake can reflect and honor the wishes of your loved one, as well as align with your needs. Urns are available in a variety of materials and come in different sizes to hold different quantities of ashes. Likewise, the method of filling and sealing the urn differs from one design to another and is sometimes dependent on the material.

Cremation urns for ashes are made using a variety of materials to fit different budgets and needs. Knowledge of the materials used to make the urn can prevent unwanted surprises, such as extra upkeep required or accidentally buying cultured marble when you wanted real marble instead.

Below is an alphabetical list summarizing the various materials used in making cremation urns, along with the advantages of each material so you can make an informed purchase. This list is continually being updated to keep you informed, and the updated list can be found here.

Materials used in making cremation urns

Aluminum: Beneficial characteristics of an aluminum cremation urn for ashes include being lightweight, malleable, corrosion resistant and non-magnetic. Aluminum is also one of the more budget-friendly options, making it a popular choice for those also purchasing space in a columbarium in a cemetery.

Biodegradable materials: Biodegradable cremation urns are sturdy enough to be handled until the time when the urn is either placed in water or buried in the earth. They are often made of materials such as handmade and recycled paper, rock salt, sand, gelatin, cornstarch, or other plant based materials. These types of urns are eco-friendly and are popular in environmentally-conscious circles.

Brass: Brass is a lightweight metal alloy that gives off a bright golden appearance when polished. Oftentimes, brass cremation urns are finished with bronze or pewter to strengthen it and to alter the color. Brass can be coated in enamel or paint and is a popular choice for urns that will be displayed.

Bronze: Bronze is a metal alloy with a warm, reddish hue. It is an inexpensive solution for necklace charms and pendants to hold ashes. It is resistant to corrosion but it will tarnish, turning the reddish hue darker, over time.

Ceramic: Because they are breakable, ceramic urns are best used as display urns in a home or possibly in a columbarium. Ceramic urns can be custom designed to produce a variety of affects and take paint exceptionally well. Ceramic urns may or may not be sealed depending on how they will be stored.

Copper: Copper is a reddish brown metal that is lightweight and malleable. It is used for accenting cremation urns. Copper wire is used in cloisonnéé urns. Copper oxidizes over time turning the surface green or bluish-green, which can be treated. Copper urns are best suited for indoor environments.

Cultured Marble: This resembles natural marble but is a less expensive alternativeCremation urns made of cultured marble are hand crafted from a blend of stone, resin, and color pigments to achieve the desired effect. The urns maintain beauty, are crafted to be durable and can be polished to a brilliant luster.

Enamel: Enamel is used to decorate the exterior of copper or aluminum cremation urns. This provides color, and creates a smooth, hard, chemically resistant, durable and scratch-resistant surface.

Gold Vermeil: Vermeil is produced when sterling silver is coated with 10K gold thicker than 2.5 micrometers. Any instance where sterling silver is coated with less than 2.5 micrometers of gold, the product is considered “gold-plated.” Necklace charms to hold ashes that are vermeil are more durable and last longer than a gold-plated pendant. Gold vermeil is a popular choice for cremation jewelry and keepsakes.

Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF): MDF is a manufactured material made mostly of wood fiber, resin and wax. It's used to create inexpensive cremation urns that exhibit the beauty of wood without the high cost. MDF requires little upkeep and is ideal for indoor displays.

Pewter: Pewter is an alloy, mostly made of tin, that is glossy and bright. Over time, the metal oxidizes and acquires a grayish tint. Pewter is also less expensive than other types of metals, making it a budget-friendly option for some.

Serpentine: OneWorld Memorial’s jadestone collection is crafted from serpentine, also known as New Jade. Serpentine comes in a green shade with white marbling. Its lustrous exterior can feel greasy, waxy or silky to the touch and is typically cool.

Soapstone: This metamorphic rock has been quarried for thousands of years. It is composed primarily of talc, thus it is very soft and easy to carve. Properties include a nonporous surface and excellent heat resistance.

Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is a steel alloy consisting of approximately 10.5% chromium. The chromium aids in making it scratch resistant. Unless exposed to certain environmental affects, it will be rust resistant. It has a brilliant silver luster and is an inexpensive material. Stainless steel may also be engraved and can be paired with other urn materials for custom designs.

Sterling Silver: Sterling silver is used in many cremation pendants and necklaces. It is comprised of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent of other metals. It does not tarnish and is stronger than fine silver, which is considered too soft to be durable. Sterling silver cremation jewelry requires regular cleaning to maintain its color and shine.

Titanium: Titanium is the strongest metal in the world and doesn’t scratch easily. It has a brilliant silver sheen when polished. Titanium cremation jewelry is non-magnetic, hypoallergenic, and does not rust or tarnish. It needs to be polished on occasion, but generally requires less maintenance than other types of metals.

White Bronze: White bronze is not bronze; it is an alloy containing copper, tin and zinc. It resembles sterling silver in color. When considering cremation jewelry, it is an ideal substitute for nickel and sterling silver because it doesn’t tarnish. White bronze is very smooth and can be manipulated into a variety of shapes and styles.

White Gold: White gold consists of yellow gold with one or more white or silver-colored metals, usually silver, but sometimes palladium, platinum or nickel. White gold is plated with rhodium to give it a shiny appearance. White gold plated urns will require occasional polishing and maintenance.

Wood: Wood cremation urns are crafted commonly from cherry, maple, pine, oak, walnut and poplar. Wooden urns for cremation ashes are generally stained and may be adorned with inlays, appliques and laser etchings. Wood urns are most often purchased for home or cemetery columbarium placement. Most wood urns are sealed to prevent moisture from penetrating.

Liz Mathers is a writer who helps produce and maintain the OneWorld Memorials website. 

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