Radiant Heart has offered flame cremation since October 2013 and eco-friendly water cremation (aquamation) since December 2018.  In June 2019 (only the six month of offering aquamation) 70% of our clients chose water cremation for their pet. The other day I quoted this percentage to a new client and they asked, “Why not 100%? Why doesn’t everyone request water cremation?”  It’s a great question, and one I ask myself several times a day, because I believe if all pet parents knew what I know as a pet crematory operator, then they would choose water cremation for their pet.

Why do pet parents continue to request flame cremation?

It’s familiar. Flame cremation has evolved to become an efficient and safe form of disposition. It has served us well for a very long time. It will always have a place in the after-care industry. However, technology now offers us a superior alternative.

New technologies can inspire, but they can also make people very nervous. For some pet parents, the idea of cremation for their pet is a relatively new idea, and it’s taken them long enough to get used to the idea of flame cremation. They don’t want to contemplate something even newer.

There are other reasons pet parents choose flame cremation for their pet.  For example, we often hear a pet parent say that they want flame cremation because their pet “hated the water.” Some pet parents are very open about liking the traditional nature of flame cremation. One set of pet parents told me that if it were possible/legal, they would want their pet to be placed in a boat, floated out to sea and set on fire like a Viking funeral.

Also, I believe that some pet parents don’t fully understand the alkaline hydrolysis process. Perhaps (from movies) they imagine gangsters dumping bodies in bathtubs with liquid acid, or slimy discharge and floating body parts, none of which is relevant to what we do.

As someone who implements both flame cremation and water cremation on a regular basis, I can say — without hesitation — that I believe water cremation is superior in every way except for the amount of time required.  If you need same-day service, then flame cremation is the perfect option.  In all other cases, I recommend water cremation.

(If you would like to retain a bone: Both flame and aquamation degrade bones significantly, but we’ve had good results in saving bones from both processes.  For true bone preservation, we can recommend a service in Seattle.)

Here’s my personal and professional perspective on why I enjoy facilitating water cremations vs. flame cremations, and why I feel that water cremation is a better option for most families.

Water cremation has 10th the carbon footprint of flame cremation. Flame cremation uses a natural-gas-fed torch-like flame to turn soft-tissue into air-born carbon which is then super-heated and turned into vapor/CO2. When the flame crematorium is in use, it is impossible to miss the powerful pillar of heat and CO2 that pours out of our crematorium’s stack. A large dog can generate as much CO2 as a 500-mile car ride.

Water cremation uses superior technology — water and alkali reduce the soft tissue at a molecular level. The by-product — a fluid of sugars and amino acids – is good for the environment and can be used as fertilizer.

Water cremation is gentle and quiet. Our PET400 aquamation machine merely “hums” when in operation. Approximately one-hundred gallons of water (the machine capacity is 140 gallons), mixed with a small amount of white crystalized alkali slowly flow in a giant circle inside a large steel container. It’s so quiet, most people can’t hear it when they walk into our facility.

In contrast, flame cremation (essentially combustion in a steel box) is loud and violent. There are times when the entire building shakes.  OSHA’s analysis of the noise created by our flame crematorium showed that it was just below the level requiring hearing protection. Normal conversation is not possible when near the running crematory.

Water cremation is so gentle, the result is 20% more cremated remains.  And the remains are white, not gray.  (No carbon remnants.) They’re also very soft.

Water cremation smells better. By adding a little bit of natural orange peel solution, we can eliminate the already very mild ammonia smell typical for PET400 operation.  Once cremation is complete, the remains have a clean and earthy smell.

However, with flame cremation we must be very careful to run our exhaust fan both during cremation and for several hours after a cremation is complete in order to mitigate unpleasant smell.  When we open the crematorium to check on the cremation and/or make an adjustment, a burning smell and some smoke enters our work environment. Without the exhaust fan, this smell and smoke would seep into our front rooms and our business neighbors’ offices.

Water cremation is cleaner. Flame Cremation generates a very fine layer of dust/soot in our primary workspace where memorials (ink and clay prints, fur clippings, etc.) are created and after-care packages are assembled.  We’re very picky about making sure everything a client receives is super-clean, so we must constantly clean our workspace during and after flame cremations. With water cremation there is no soot or dust. The PET400 still requires cleaning, but water cremation itself doesn’t negatively impact our work life like flame cremation.

Water cremation doesn’t negatively affect the temperature of our workspace.  Our flame crematorium, which typically reaches an internal temperature of 1450 F. for extended periods of time, creates radiant heat in our workspace.  Whenever we run the flame crematorium, we often end the day sweating, even in winter. Not so with water cremation, which doesn’t affect the temperature.

Flame cremation is a process, while water cremation is more like “tending.” When a flame cremation is complete, we must wear heavy protective gear – aluminized full-length coats, aluminized padded gloves, and welding helmet – to protect ourselves from the hot crematorium.  To safely and thoroughly collect the cremated remains we use a variety of tools (some of them quite heavy). It is all done at a distance. The tools touch the cremated remains, but we typically do not.

With water cremation, the collection of remains is very hands-on, and it’s more like tending than processing.  To remove cremated remains safely, we wear rubber gloves, but even those are optional. Each pet’s cremated remains and ID tag are hand collected using a small pan and brush. During the multi-day drying process, we check the remains at least once a day, hand-turning the remains (like soil in a garden) so that they dry as thoroughly as possible.  The hands-on nature of water cremation makes it more meaningful for me as a cremation practitioner.

Radiant Heart offers two types of cremation for a reason, and we will always honor and respect the decision of a pet parent who chooses flame cremation.  However, water cremation will continue to be our personal favorite (as well as the type of cremation we recommend) due to its gentle nature and eco-friendly attributes.