Have you ever gone out to your car parked on the driveway and seen a spackling of little black dots on the paint’s surface? Your first horrified thought might have been that you’re seeing paint chips, but on closer inspection they appear to be something more closely resembling common dirt. You go to wipe them off but they don’t budge. Now you’re scratching your head wondering what these things are…
What we’re dealing with in this situation is a problematic organism known as artillery spores, or artillery fungus. They’re also known as shotgun fungus because of the way that they launch their spores across relatively huge distances not dissimilar to a shotgun spraying the contents of its shells, or an artillery piece firing off a payload. But where do they come from? Where are these artillery spores “firing” from? Why can’t I wipe them off? These questions and others that were the subject of our recent Wings Mobile Detailing podcast we will explain in today’s blog.
What are Artillery Spores?
Why are they a Detailer’s Nightmare?
The scientific name for artillery spores is sphaerobolus stellatus, and far from being a reject villain name from the Marvel Universe, they are a very real danger to your car’s paint, as well as outdoor surfaces like the sides of your house, garage door, fence and anything that gets in the way. They can even get all over your garden hose!
But where does this fungus come from? If you can’t see any signs of mushrooms or other fungi in your garden, then where are they being artillery shot from? The answer is from your household mulch. Most kinds of bark mulch have the artillery fungus within it, and over time the fungus will launch its spores towards bright light. It can shoot spores up to 20 feet, which explains how the fungus appears so able to get absolutely everywhere.
The main difficulty for detailers when it comes to dealing with artillery spores on cars is two-fold:
First, there are no existing products designed to specifically kill, dissolve or otherwise remove artillery fungus
Second, the only viable processes for removing them are both painstaking and time-consuming
It sounds odd to say this when there are so many amazing car cleaning and detailing products on the market today, but the fact remains that nothing has ever been made to deal specifically with the problem of artillery fungus. There are some simple things you can use to try and clean it off, which we’ll discuss in more detail below, but there’s no detailing “cure” as things currently stand.
The only thing left to do is to essentially attack each spore individually. Using the flat tip of an electric pressure washer angled correctly and blasted at close range can remove individual spores, but it’s hard work because you may need different angles for each spore, and you really have to go at it hitting each one individually.
Negative Impacts of Artillery Fungus
If your car’s paint is already a dark color, then you can get away with some artillery fungus infestation because the spores essentially blend into the paintwork. In another sense, however, this makes things worse because you may not notice the spores until they have become a much more widespread issue.
Obviously, the spores are most noticeable on lighter-colored models, such as white, silver and cream. Depending on how close your car is parked to bark mulch, and for how long, you will likely notice these black specks in small numbers at first. It’s at that point when you have to leap into action. The longer you leave artillery fungus, the worse it gets and potentially the more damage it can do.
The only slightly good news is that the fungus itself isn’t corrosive, nor is it a common allergen. What happens with the fungus is that it first gets in place and then buries itself deeper and deeper over time. It can even get to the point where it breaks through your clearcoat.
Preventing and Removing Artillery Fungus
Since there’s not currently any dedicated product designed to solve this problem, the best approach is to try and avoid it from ever happening. It’s not just your car that’s affected, but the walls of your home, fences, garden decorations, garage door, and anything else that’s within 20 feet of the spore-shooting mulch.
Prevention: Switch Your Mulch
If you’re using bark mulch at home, there are a number of things you can do to either contain or eliminate the artillery spore problem. The first thing you can try is switching to cedar or pine mulch, both of which tend to have a much lower content of the artillery fungus in their bark. You could also try mixing in mushroom compost to form about 40 percent of your mulch. Mushroom compost is reported to help suppress the spores.
If reduction isn’t your desired result, but rather elimination, then you can try covering your mulch with black plastic and letting the sun bake it to heat up the area and cook the spores right out of the bark --- gone for good. The trouble with that method is that it only works where you have strong direct sunlight.
A more direct approach to eliminate the problem of the fungus is to simply use gravel or plastic mulch, neither of which contain the fungus as an inherent characteristic.
Prevention: Change Your Parking Spot
If the mulch can’t be switched, perhaps for instance because it’s not your mulch, then you should just try being more aware of where you park the car for any protracted period. The spores can be shot up to 20 feet, but if you’re at least 10 feet away from the mulch, it should be enough distance to prevent most contamination.
Removal: Early Contamination
If you see the artillery fungus on your car one day and you’re sure it wasn’t there the day before or very recently, then you might have a chance to remove it simply by using some very warm water, a simple car cleaner and a washing mitt. The water will need to be quite hot for it to work. This will only work in the earliest stages before the fungus has time to properly embed itself.
Removal: Pressure Washing
The most common method for removal is to use a pressure washer angled right and positioned at close range to simply blast the fungus right off. The obvious problem with this method is that blasting high-pressure water poses risks to your car when done at such close range and possibly many times over to remove all the specks of fungus. However, it remains a better method than trying to scrape the fungus off with your nails!
One other issue is that even if you clean off the fungus, it might leave a discolored stain behind in its wake. The longer the fungus is on there, the more likely it is to make a deep stain that you can do little or nothing about. This is yet another reason to clean the fungus off as soon as possible.
If the stain is serious, you could try a clay detailing bar, or a polisher. If you can remove the stain with regular polish, then that’s ideal, but if not you can try compound. If compound polishing doesn’t remove the stain, then it’s essentially too deep to do anything about.
The Detailer’s Nightmare: Prevention is the Best Cure
Preventing the fungus from being able to take hold in the first place is the best way to avoid it. If mulch is present in public parking areas then there’s little you can really do about that, but you can at least control the environment within your own home. Deny the artillery fungus the environment they need to thrive, or switch to gravel or plastic mulch instead.
Make checking for artillery fungus a regular part of your week or your normal car washing routine. If you can spot it early, you have a better chance of removing it more easily. Remember that any professional detailer would be happy to remove the stuff for you, and will do a great job, but you should remember that getting it done right could take some time!