For decades, people choosing what happens to their body after death have had only two realistic options—burial or traditional cremation. But that might be changing. A relatively new process called "water cremation" or "aquamation" is now recognized in the laws of about half of the U.S. states, and every year more states are considering legalizing the process. Funeral homes and crematories are still catching up, but it's now often possible to find a provider of water cremation either in your own state or a nearby state.
How does water cremation work? Water cremation or aquamation is a chemical process more formally called "alkaline hydrolysis." The chemical process uses a solution of 95% water and 5% potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide to reduce a body to components of liquid and bone.
After a body is aquamated, bone fragments are retained so they can be dried and turned into a substance similar to cremated ashes. The bone byproduct of alkaline hydrolysis may be scattered, buried, or disposed in any way that traditionally cremated ashes are handled. Implants such as dental fillings or pacemakers can be easily separated from the bone fragments before the bones are rendered into "ash."
The liquid byproduct of alkaline hydrolysis is a nontoxic solution of amino acids, peptides, sugars, and soap that can be disposed of through local sewage systems. Many have uncomfortably analogized this process to "pouring bodies down the drain," a characterization that often overlooks the fact that body fluids and blood are also routinely disposed of the same way during traditional embalming practices.
Essentially, aquamation mirrors the chemical decomposition that happens when a body is buried, except aquamation is much faster. In fact, water cremation takes just hours—usually from four to 16 hours, depending on the temperature and pressure in the chamber.
Water cremation or aquamation might go by another name in your local area. These terms all refer to the same process:
From the early 1990s through the mid-2000s, aquamation was used only as a method for disposing of animal remains or cadavers left to medical schools for research. More recently, states have been considering adding aquamation to the available options for body disposition, alongside burial and traditional cremation. Often, this proposal is controversial.
Supporters of water cremation argue that it's the most environmentally friendly method of body disposition, using five times less energy than traditional fire cremation and producing no greenhouse gases. It can also reduce the amount of wood, metal, and concrete used in funerals, and help break down formaldehyde and embalming fluid.
So why is water cremation still not legal in many states? The vast majority of opponents to water cremation object on the grounds that it is not a dignified way to treat human remains. For example, water cremation was briefly legal in New Hampshire, but the law was repealed, and the Catholic Church of New Hampshire successfully opposed new legislation.
Similarly, in Ohio the Catholic Conference of Ohio contributed to the defeat of aquamation legislation. But not all Catholics oppose water cremation; some consider aquamation to be "morally neutral."
Water cremation typically costs in the range of $2,000 to $3,500, falling in the higher end of the traditional cremation costs. One prominent funeral home in Colorado, for example, prices water cremation at $3,200, which is $1,000 higher than its traditional cremation cost. (See this 2023 NPR interview on water cremation.)
Note that both traditional cremations and water cremations are less expensive than burials. For reference, the average cost of a casket itself is more than $2000.
Water cremation is usually a little more expensive than traditional cremation because the alkaline hydrolysis equipment is quite expensive. (It might cost a provider between $175,000 and $260,000 to purchase an alkaline hydrolysis unit.) That said, the costs of burial and cremation services vary widely by location and provider.
What states allow water cremation? This chart below shows which states have approved alkaline hydrolysis, and where it has yet to be recognized. You can also click on the name of the state to learn more about its burial and cremation laws.
Note that this chart instead shows where aquamation of human remains is legal. (Pet aquamation might be available in other places.)
|Alabama||Legal||In 2017, Alabama recognized aquamation as an acceptable form of disposition when it rewrote its definition of cremation to include chemical processes and defined "alkaline hydrolysis" in its statute. (Ala. Code § 34-13-1.)|
|Alaska||No law||Alaska does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Arizona||Legal||Arizona made water cremation legal in 2023 when it passed laws setting out licensing requirements for alkaline hydrolysis facilities. (Ariz. Stat. §§ 32-1341 to 32-1347.)|
|Arkansas||No law||Arkansas does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|California||Legal||Alkaline hydrolysis was legalized in California in October 2017 by explicit statute. (Cal. Health & Saf. Code § 7010.1)|
|Colorado||Legal||Colorado indirectly legalized alkaline hydrolysis in 2011 when it changed its definition of cremation to remove "direct exposure to intense heat." (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 12-135-103.)|
|Connecticut||Legal||In 2016, Connecticut recognized the use of alkaline hydrolysis when it revised its law on designating an individual to have custody of one's remains. The revision added alkaline hydrolysis as a method of disposition. (See Conn. Gen. Stat. §45a-318.) Later, in 2021, Connecticut also included disposition by alkaline hydrolysis as one of the practices under the definition of "funeral directing." (See Conn. Gen. Stat. §20-207.)|
|Delaware||No law||Delaware does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Florida||Legal||Alkaline hydrolysis had some of its first roots in Florida. Florida authorized alkaline hydrolysis by slowly expanding its definition of "cremation" to include methods other than incineration. (Fla. Stat. § 497.005.)|
|Georgia||Legal||Georgia legalized alkaline hydrolysis in 2012 by changing the state's definition of cremation to include chemical processes. (Ga. Code Ann. 43-18-1.)|
|Hawaii||Legal||In 2022, Hawaii explicitly recognized alkaline hydrolysis as an acceptable form of disposition when it added a definition of "water cremation" to its laws. (See Haw. Rev. Stat. § 531B-2.)|
|Idaho||Legal||Alkaline hydrolysis was explicitly legalized in 2014; the Rules of the State Board of Morticians in Idaho now mentions "alkaline hydrolysis."|
|Illinois||Legal||Alkaline hydrolysis was legalized in Illinois in 2012, when the legislature redefined "cremation" to specifically include the process. (See 410 ILCS § 18/5.)|
|Indiana||No law||Indiana does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Iowa||No law||Iowa does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Kansas||Legal||Kansas indirectly legalized alkaline hydrolysis in 2011, when the state broadened its definition of cremation to include methods other than "direct exposure to intense heat and flame." (Kan. Stat. § 65-1760.)|
|Kentucky||No law||Kentucky does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Louisiana||No law||Louisiana does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Maine||Legal||Alkaline hydrolysis was legalized in Maine in 2009, when the Maine Attorney General approved a new definition of cremation in the Maine Rules for Establishment and Operation of Crematorian (144 CMR 244, Section 1.) That definition now includes "chemical dissolution."|
|Maryland||Legal||Maryland legalized alkaline hydrolysis in 2010, when the state explicitly defined cremation to include processes other than heat and flame. (Md. Code, Bus. Reg. § 5-101.)|
|Massachusetts||No law||Massachusetts does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Michigan||No law||Michigan does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Minnesota||Legal||Minnesota was one of the earliest states to recognize alkaline hydrolysis. In 2003, Minnesota created licensing regulations and other requirements for alkaline hydrolysis. The law also explicitly states that alkaline hydrolysis is considered a form of final disposition. (Minn. Stat. § 149A.02.)|
|Mississippi||No law||Mississippi does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Missouri||Legal||Lawmakers revised Missouri's code of regulations in 2020 to explicitly allow alkaline hydrolysis by name. (See 20 CSR 2120-1.040). Even prior to 2020, Missouri's definition of cremation had been broad enough to include alkaline hydrolysis, even if it didn't explicitly mention the process. As a result, a handful of Missouri funeral homes and crematories have been offering the option for years.|
|Montana||No law||Montana does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Nebraska||No law||Nebraska does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Nevada||Legal||Alkaline hydrolysis was explicitly allowed in Nevada in May 2017, and Nevada law now includes a definition of alkaline hydrolysis. (Nev. Rev. Stat. § 451.607.)|
|New Hampshire||Not currently legal (but was previously legal)||Water cremation was once (briefly) legal in New Hampshire, but now no longer is. The process was legalized in New Hampshire in 2006, but the law was later repealed before any facilities yet offered it. An effort to pass a new bill legalizing the process in 2009 and again in 2013-14 failed, with the Catholic Church of New Hampshire opposing this type of cremation. (See this U.S. News article on the legalization of aquamation.)|
|New Jersey||No law||New Jersey does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|New Mexico||No law||New Mexico does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|New York||No law||New York does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|North Carolina||Legal||North Carolina made alkaline hydrolysis an acceptable method of final disposition in North Carolina in 2018. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-210.136.)|
|North Dakota||No law||North Dakota does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Ohio||Not legal||In 2011, the Ohio Department of Health ruled that alkaline hydrolysis was not an acceptable form of final disposition. In 2013, the Catholic Conference of Ohio successfully opposed legislation allowing alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Oklahoma||Legal||In 2021, Oklahoma recognized aquamation as an acceptable form of disposition when it added a definition of "alkaline hydrolysis" to its Funeral Services Licensing Act. (See Okla. Stat. tit. 59 § 396.2.)|
|Oregon||Legal||Alkaline hydrolysis was legalized in Oregon in 2009, when the state updated its definition of "final disposition" to include the dissolution of human remains. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 692.010(4).)|
|Pennsylvania||No law||Pennsylvania does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Rhode Island||No law||Rhode Island does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|South Carolina||No law||South Carolina does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|South Dakota||No law||South Dakota does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Tennessee||Legal||In 2021, Tennessee recognized aquamation as an acceptable form of disposition when it added a definition of "alkaline hydrolysis" to its laws on funeral directors and embalmers. (See Tenn. Code § 62-5-801.)|
|Texas||No law||Texas does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Utah||Legal||Utah began to recognize alkaline hydrolysis in 2018, when it passed laws setting out requirements for funeral service establishments offering the service. (See Utah Stat. § 58-9-613.) Utah laws also defines alkaline hydrolysis. (Utah Stat. § 58-9-613.)|
|Vermont||Legal||Alkaline hydrolysis was legalized in Vermont in 2014. A crematory may now provide for final disposition by "cremation, alkaline hydrolysis, or natural organic reduction." (26 V.S.A. § 1211.)|
|Virginia||No law (but legislation proposed)||Virginia does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis, but as of 2023 proposed legislation to define alkaline hydrolysis and add it as a recognized method of final disposition was pending.|
|Washington||Legal||In 2020, Washington recognized aquamation when it explicitly added alkaline hydrolysis as a method of of final disposition. (See RCW § 68.50.110.) It also included a definition of "alkaline hydrolysis" in its laws on cemeteries, morgues, and human remains. (See RCW § 68.04.290.)|
|Washington, D.C.||No law||Washington, D.C. does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|West Virginia||No law||West Virginia does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Wisconsin||No law||Wisconsin does not currently have any laws or regulations about alkaline hydrolysis.|
|Wyoming||Legal||In 2014, Wyoming allowed alkaline hydrolysis when it amended its cremation statutes to include "chemical disposition." (Wyo. Stat. § 33-16-502.)|
Even if your state laws recognize the practice of aquamation, you might still have trouble finding a funeral home or crematory that offers the service. In some states, water cremation is legal but no facilities yet offer it. The equipment is expensive, and public demand is still small—though it is growing. In some states, laws were passed very recently, and funeral homes are still catching up.
If water cremation is important to you but you can't find a facility in your state, consider traveling to a nearby state where water cremation facilities are already operating. Use the chart above to locate potential states.
Read more about the process of alkaline hydrolysis from the Cremation Association of America.
To learn more about final arrangements, including traditional methods of body disposition, see Getting Your Affairs in Order.