A bizarre smell has forced a woman in western P.E.I. and her daughter out of their home and ruined most of their belongings.

The source of the smell remains a mystery, as does what, if anything, can be done to fix the problem.

Smelly house

Ralph and Tammy Jeffery don't know if anything can be done to salvage the house. (CBC)

Tammy Jeffery and her daughter have been living with Jeffery's parents for three weeks. Her own Cascumpec home is right next door. But she doesn't dare go inside, and neither does her father, Ralph Jeffery.

"I've ruined four or five outfits so far," he said.

"Any time I went in the house, I had to get rid of whatever clothes I had."

The smell is persistent. Once it gets into clothes, it won't wash out. Jeffery even had to cut her daughter's hair.

"My daughter has long, thick hair, and I've had to get quite a few inches cut off trying to get the smell out after numerous washings," said Tammy Jeffery.

Everything in the home, even the electronics, is contaminated with the smell, she said.

"We don't know if it's toxic or not." 

Jeffery doesn't know what caused the odour, but she thinks it started with something her family has done for decades: spreading lime in the basement.

The crawl space under the house is unfinished, a bare, clay basement. Untreated, it generates a smell like a potato field, said Tammy Jeffery. Jeffery has been in the house seven years and has spread lime in the basement annually. Her grandparents were in the house before that and did the same thing for decades.

Cindy West

Cindy West doesn't believe the lime from her company is causing the problem, but Graymont is testing the product to be certain. (CBC)

This year, the family used a slightly different product, a high-calcium hydrated lime that Jeffery said was recommended by a salesperson at Cavendish Agri Services.

It was within a few hours of sprinkling it in the crawl space that the strange and persistent odour began to spread throughout the house. Jeffery and her father removed the lime, cleaned the house, and even hired a restoration company to get rid of the smell.

Nothing has worked.

"There is nothing I've ever smelled like this," she said.

"Nobody can help me find out an answer — if the product was bad, if we were sold the wrong product, if it reacted with something in the house — there's so many scenarios."

Nobody from Cavendish Agri Services would do a recorded interview, but a staff person told CBC News that for years, Islanders have been purchasing high-calcium hydrated lime and using it in their clay basements to remove mould, mildew and odours.

He said he has never heard of anyone running into any problems.

The lime's manufacturer, Graymont, hasn't either.

"We work in it all the time. We breathe it, our employees bag it. We feel it's very safe," said Graymont representative Cindy West.

West has taken samples of Jeffery's lime that the company will test this week, but she is confident it is not to blame.

That leaves Jeffery uncertain where to turn. The problem isn't covered on her home insurance. She can't afford an air quality test, which can cost $1,000 or more.

"I don't have the money. I'm a single mom. I've lost everything I've owned," she said.

Jeffery's friends and family are planning a benefit to help her and her daughter.