Let's say I have a backpack. It is a typical bag like this backapck but say it is made of inferior quality. One time I wash it and since than I have been observing that the black body of the bag has been disintegrating. I see small black pieces lying on the floor which came from the bag's outer black layer.

My question is what is the right word( or in this case verb) to describe this phenomenon. I think the word I am looking for would also apply for a old pullover with some design or print on it; and since it is old and worn out, that material is starting to fall off.

I want to used the word in this sense

The bag or the cloth is so old/ worn out/ inferior that it is starting to (the word I am looking for).

However I am fine with other constructs also in same sense.

  • Decay is a possibility, or fall apart Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 4:57
  • Another possibility is abrade which specifically means that the loss comes from rubbing or friction. In this case, since the bag is not very old but the damage occurred in the washing machine, the damage might be considered an abrasion rather than being due to wear.
    – jbyler
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 20:00

6 Answers 6


If the backpack is losing fibers at the edges of the cloth, it is starting to fray.

If entire scraps of woven cloth are coming off, you already know the answer--it's starting to disintegrate.

If it is coming apart at the seams, it is simply coming apart at the seams (an expression that is usually used idiomatically, but which you have the uncommon privilege of being able to use literally here).


You have already suggested a very good option: disintegrate. That's a word I would use for emphasis. In more casual speech, I'd just say it was falling apart.


You might consider "fray" or "wear out". "Disintegrate" is also used, but that's not specific to cloth & suggests that it's coming apart to the point that it isn't there any more.

  • Fray is something that specifically happens to the ends or edges of fabric as the fibers become unwoven. Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 16:34
  • Except that your comment is directly contradicted by the dictionary definition linked in the answer. See Fray(2) def. 5, example "My sweater frayed at the elbows." @WinnieNicklaus
    – Tiercelet
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 16:36
  • I acknowledge that definition, but I would never use the word that way and other dictionaries I am checking do not offer that as an option. Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 16:37
  • In any case, the OP is asking about cases where bits of the material are actually being lost, while fray indicates only that the constituent threads are not holding in formation. Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 16:39

I'd say "wear", to "fray" is more specific to describing the "end" of piece (like a rope, or edge of a cloth). "wear" describes the same phenomenon, but could apply equally to the surface of a piece of cloth.

  • Do you mean wear or wear out?
    – Max
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 17:15
  • There is a subtle difference between the two. "Wear out" implies to some sort of completion - like "wear out" to the point of it being gone or to the point of being unusable. "Wear" is a bit less definitive or terminal. I assume if you "wear" anything to a certain extent, it will eventually become "worn out". It's a subtle difference - I guess it depends on what you're implying. If you say it will "wear out" it implies to "become unusable", but to "wear" could just be like gradual, normal "wear and tear" on a car, or the desired fading of a pair of jeans.
    – Brad
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 17:30
  • I like "wear" but it's important to point out that you're referring to the less common intransitive meaning, which is distinct from the transitive "to wear <something>". Most often the intransitive form is seen in other variations, like "The bag is well worn" or "The bag is showing a lot of wear".
    – jbyler
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 19:36
  • "If you wear the packpack every day, you will notice signs of wear along the shoulder straps." "You will wear out your slippers if you wear them to work every day."
    – Brad
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 12:58

It's shedding fibers like a middle-aged man going bald; getting thinner and more time-worn with each passing day, until it eventually fades entirely with the setting sun.


In this particular case (and that of the pullover) I would use flake.
It seems most apt to the situation as the material coming of is in the form of flakes.

  • This answer is correct, in that it does provide a word that fits the criteria, but it doesn't explain why. Could you edit with a brief explanation of the reasoning that led to you choosing it? Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 20:19
  • @JonathanGarber It thought it was pretty obvious... But you have your wish.
    – Tonny
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 21:04

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