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There’s a fungus among us

June 25, 2008
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Even if you’ve never heard of artillery fungus, also known as shotgun fungus in the genus of Sphaerobolus stellatus, you may have seen it, particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. It appears as sticky tiny black or brown spots on your house, decks, plants or paint surface of your automobile. They look like bug droppings and are often misdiagnosed in the detail industry as tree sap, but are actually scaly spores.

Without getting too technical, these spores come from a fungus which establishes colonies in and on organic materials such as rotting wood, wood-based mulch, and animal manure when temperatures are between 50 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the spring and fall seasons

Artillery fungus spores grow inside tiny cups that burst when they’re exposed to bright light. The spores emit an incredibly sticky liquid that rivals Super Glue, enabling them to glob on to anything they hit up to 20 feet away — including your car. Because they are light-sensitive, you’re most likely to find them on reflective surface of white or silver colored vehicles.

Artillery fungus isn’t corrosive, or an allergen but causes millions of dollars of cosmetic damage to paint surfaces and is an annoying eyesore that’s almost impossible to remove. The longer it remains bonded to the paint surface of an automobile the harder it sticks. Even if you can pry off the dark little bumps, a brown stain often remains. And if you don’t catch the little bumps and destroy them, they can survive for up to 12 years and reinfest the ground wherever they fall.

Scrubbing and scraping the black spots from the paint surface of an automobile with strong chemical cleaners is a time-consuming chore that can scratch and damage the paint. In fact many detailers have been known to speed up the process by blowing them off the paint surface by closely aiming the pressure washer directly at them, of course we all know this type of pressure can fracture the clear coat, not to mention that entire pieces of clear coat can be ripped from the surface of the vehicle. Removing the fungus safely is possible with hot soapy water and scrubbing gently on each spot with a micro-fiber towel making sure to properly dispose of the spores.

Once you’re rid of the spores, the best way to avoid a re-appearance is to advise your client to stay clear of wood mulch. If you use it in your yard, don’t have it near the house or driveway, turn it and break it up regularly to aerate it and dry it out, and completely replace it every year. If that sounds like too much work, use stones for landscaping instead.

Gina Budhai is the managing partner of Car Pool Detail in Virginia and president of the National Association for Professional Detailing and Reconditioning (NAPDR). She was also PC&D’s 2006 Detail Person of the Year.

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