A significant part of end-of-life planning is deciding what you’d like to happen to your body after you pass away. Aquamation, or “water cremation,” is an increasingly popular modern alternative to cremation that uses water instead of fire. Many favor it because it’s gentler on the body while also being a more eco-friendly option.

In this article, we look at the aquamation process, its environmental benefit, and how it differs from traditional cremation.

What is the process of aquamation?

Aquamation, also referred to as alkaline hydrolysis, uses an alkaline water solution to slowly and gently break down the body into a powder-like substance similar to cremated ashes. Depending on the heat of the water, which is between 200 and 300°F, the process takes between six and 20 hours.

After the body is placed into a stainless-steel vessel, the alkaline and water solution is added and circulated. All sterile water then drains away while the bones are left behind and then processed into a fine powder similar to cremated ash, which the family can keep in an urn or scatter in a chosen destination.

Is aquamation available for humans?

Yes, aquamation is available for humans but only in certain states, which we list later in the article. Although this process was originally created for animals, it has become an option available for humans looking for a gentler, more eco-friendly burial alternative.

What are the benefits of water cremation?

·   It’s affordable

Like cremation, aquamation for humans is much less expensive than traditional burial because there’s no need to purchase a plot, pay for a headstone, etc.

·   It’s gentle

Some people prefer the idea of water cremation to traditional cremation because it’s a slower, gentler process that more closely mimics the natural decomposition process that takes with a burial.

·   It’s better for the environment

There are several environmental benefits to aquamation. No fossil fuels are burned during the process, so there are no direct emissions. It also uses 90% less energy than traditional cremation, and unlike flame-based cremation, no mercury is released. In addition, the process of aquamation uses less water than a single U.S. household uses daily.  

·   You receive more ashes

On average, the family receives 20-30% more ashes through water cremation than traditional cremation, which is beneficial if you want to split the ashes between different family members or spread them in various locations that are meaningful.

Deciding between aquamation vs. cremation

What happens to your body when you pass away is a very personal choice and can be a difficult one to make. If you’re deciding between aquamation and cremation, the following questions might help you out.

·   What’s traditional in your culture?

In some cultures and religions, for example in Buddhism and Sikhism, cremation is the most common or recommended way to handle the body after death. If cremation is traditional in your culture, does it feel important to you to act in line with this tradition? Or do you have different priorities? For example, if you’re passionate about the environment, you might prefer to go the aquamation route, as it’s more eco-friendly.

·   How does the idea of aquamation vs cremation make you feel?

You should feel happy and comfortable with all of your end-of-life plans, including what happens to your body. Some people prefer the idea of cremation because it’s a faster process and is more traditional. Others, however, like the fact that water cremation is a slower and gentler process. Take some time to ponder what feels right to you.

·   Do you have a pacemaker fitted?

If you have a pacemaker, this needs to be removed before traditional cremation, which can add to the cost. This is due to the fact that the battery in the pacemaker can explode at the high temperature used for flame cremation. If you opt for aquamation, however, your pacemaker can be left in since the temperature is lower and there is no risk of the battery exploding. Some prefer the idea that your body won’t be processed as much after death.

·   Is aquamation legal in your state?

As it’s a fairly new process, aquamation is only available in certain states. Currently, these states include Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming. Laws are constantly evolving, so please check the current regulations in your state. If your state does not permit it, you may be able to have your body transported to a nearby state that does allow aquamation. 

Aquamation for pets

Just as animals can be cremated, the aquamation process is also available for pets and legal in every state in the U.S. The animal’s body is broken down gently using alkaline hydrolysis in a small steel vessel. Many people choose it as a more eco-friendly option for their pet, which still allows you to take away ashes to bury or keep in an urn.

Frequently asked questions about aquamation

You might have some questions about aquamation if you aren't familiar with the process. We've answered some of the most frequently asked questions for you below.

What happens to the water after aquamation?

The water from the alkaline hydrolysis process, including the water from the body, is treated and sterilized and then flows back into the ecosystem through the wastewater system. This is another way in which aquamation is an eco-friendly process.

Is the body placed in a casket for aquamation?

No, there is no need for a casket when choosing aquamation. Typically for aquamation a body is placed in a special biodegradable bag, or you can choose for it to be wrapped in a natural silk or wool shroud since these materials will break down during the process. 

Why is aquamation more eco-friendly?

Aquamation is a more sustainable option than cremation because no fossil fuels are burned in the process and no greenhouse gasses are released. The only by-products are water, which returns to the ecosystem, and the inorganic ash substance that is returned to the family.

How much does aquamation cost for humans?

On average, aquamation is slightly more expensive than traditional cremation because of the expense of the machines used. Typically water cremation costs between $2,000-3,000 while flame cremation costs around $1,100-2,000. It’s important to keep in mind that a traditional burial can cost between $7,000-12,000.

Which religions believe in aquamation for humans?

While views and rules on aquamation differ between individual branches of religion, generally, aquamation isn’t accepted in Judaism, Islam, or Catholicism, whereas it’s usually permitted in other branches of Christianity, as well as in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.

Read more: What religions don’t believe in cremation?

Can you still have a memorial service with aquamation?

Yes, you can either hold a memorial service before the aquamation process, or afterwards, for example, if you want to bury or spread the ashes with friends and family present.

Making your decision

These end-of-life choices are big decisions, and you should feel informed and empowered when making them. Read more about why people choose cremation and different memorial and burial alternatives to help gather information as you make your decision.

Read more: How long does it take to get ashes after cremation?