Before you watch this video on sourdough starter maintenance, please know that it really isn’t a big deal to keep your sourdough culture alive and healthy. A good starter is naturally very hearty and robust. If I were as strong as my starter is, I’d be competing in Iron Man competitions. At a minimum, all you have to do is throw some flour and water in once in a while to keep it alive during periods when you’re baking infrequently. To keep it near optimum health, feed it once a week or so and keep it refrigerated.

If you’re baking regularly, say weekly or bi-weekly, it’s easy enough just to feed it after using the amount called for in your recipe before returning it to your refrigerator. If you really want to be sure your starter is in optimum shape, feed it once or twice the day before baking or the two days prior to baking day. In addition, here are a few points that are worth noting…

  • When you feed your starter, feed it with approximately equal weights of flour and water. That equates to about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of water for every cup of flour.
  • As a general rule of thumb, the amount you feed your sourdough starter depends on how much of it you have to start with. When practical, you want to approximately double the amount of starter you have each time you feed it. However, if you already have a couple cups of starter on hand and typically only use a cup of starter in your recipe, it doesn’t make sense to have to double the existing two cups of starter. In this case just dispose of a cup or more of the starter and then double what remains.
  • If it’s been a long time since you’ve fed your starter and you don’t plan on baking for a while, don’t feel like you have to go through a big rigamarole to keep it happy, just stir in a 1/2 cup of flour and about the same amount of water and forget about it. That will at least buy you a few more weeks before you have to worry about it again.
  • If you really don’t think you’re going to use your starter at all for a very long time, (some people don’t bake during the summer months, for example), you could dry some starter and freeze it. It will store this way indefinitely. Then revive it in the fall. See the videos on drying starter and reviving dried starter.
  • If you need a whole wheat or rye starter, it’s easy to convert your white flour starter by just a few successive feedings with the flour you want. You may have to adjust the water as some flours are thirstier than others.
  • Be sure to store your starter in a container that’s not air tight. This comment from Madelyn dramatically (and humorously) illustrates why.

I’m really belaboring this subject. Once you’ve played around with sourdough starters for a while and baked some with it, you’ll know all you need to know and develop a sense for what works best. If your bread is not rising as much as you think it should (you’re not getting the desired oven spring) then try what I said about feeding your starter a couple of times in the 12-24 hours before starting your recipe.

As with anything on this web site, if you have any questions or comments about anything please ask in the space below.

Jan 13, 2011 Update: In this video I mention a favorite recipe of mine that calls for 2 cups of sourdough starter. It’s been so long since I shot the video (and many favorite recipes ago), that I’ve forgotten exactly which recipe I was referring to. I do know it was in Ed Wood’s book, Classic Sourdoughs. He has many recipes in there that call for 2 cups of starter.

1,488 thoughts on “Managing Your Sourdough Starter

  1. Wee Kiong

    I believe I can learn a lot from your video. I do have a couple of questions though.
    How much sourdough do I need for every kg of all purpose flour used in making pancake batter?

    If I were to bake everyday, do I need to make 3 batches of sourdough starters, since it takes about 3 days to be ready for use after each feeding of the starter and will I need 3 batches of sourdough starter?

    How much will I have to feed it every time after use?

    Thank you,

    Wee Kiong

  2. Heidi

    Hello,
    I didn’t use/feed my sourdough for some time (3 weeks) so I did the usual flour and water routine and then set it in our one room that has our plumbing pipes. I did this as it is warmer in there and I was going to “jump start” it.
    However, I made the big mistake of leaving it in there overnight and now I used it and it maybe has a bit more of a tangy, slightly “off” aftertaste?
    I have not used this much and am inexperienced, so now am wondering if I ruined it. Is there a way to tell if you left it out too long in a warm room?
    Thank you

  3. Ruth

    This is my first time baking with homemade sourdough starter! Just wondering… How much (if anything) should I feed my starter right after I bake with it? I had 3 cups of starter, took out 2 cups to bake with. I know I should feed it right BEFORE I use it; should I feed it AFTER I use it too? Thanks! –Ruth

  4. G. Giraldo

    Hello,
    I have acquired a starter from my local bakery and I wanted to keep it healthy. I don’t have time to make anything with it for a few weeks and I wanted to find out how often I should feed it. I have about 1cup and a half and it looks healthy I think. thanks again and I look forward to baking with it for the first time.

  5. barbara

    your video was very helpful. I just have one question. will my starter get ‘tangier’ if I leave it out and feed it longer??? I made my first 2 loaves of bread yesterday, and while the texture, and the crust was GREAT….it just didn’t have that tangy flavor. and on the 2nd rising, the loaves didn’t POOF very much……and my starter was VERY active. thank you in advance. barb

    • The longer your starter sits out, the more sour it will become, but that doesn’t always translate into a more sour loaf of bread. You’re more likely to get a more sour loaf if you prolong the proofing time by putting the bread dough in the fridge overnight. You’ll have to experiment with it. Also, one possible reason for not getting a good second rise is if you proofed it too long on the first rise. Getting the timing right on this stuff can be challenging. You just have to bake a million loaves and then it will be easier ;-).

  6. Camille

    Love the website, very informative and it is nice to here that keeping a starter isn’t as much work as many other websites suggest. I recently started getting into the whole wild yeast starter thing and reconstituted flakes on my countertop. Things were going great, starter was doubling, sometimes almost tripling in a 12 hour period. I want mine to be a refrigerator starter since I only plan to use it once or twice a week, MAX. I fed it, stuck it in the fridge, 12 hours later there was a layer of liquid but it didn’t seem to be any higher than the night before. By the 14 hour mark of the last feeding before refrigeration, I reduced and fed it again…still not rising. Their are some bubbles, no rise though. I know of people who keep their starter in the fridge and feed it twice a week. I REALLY want to start using mine…what did I do wrong or what should I be doing? Thanks!

    • Camille

      I really wish someone would reply to my question, I can’t seem to get help anywhere on any site…

      • Alex

        Hey Camille, this happened to me on day three. I was out of the fridge the whole time. I just let it sit on the counter and added a little more flour than water. I got the consistency to about pancake batter.

        Then, nothing happened for a day.

        On the eve of the fourth day i looked inside and… … … Big bubbles!

        I think the metabolism of the yeast and bacteria really slows down in the cold weather. Maybe, you could take it out of the fridge, feed it again and let it sit on the counter to revive?

        I am on day eight! So excited to harvest and bake tomorrow

  7. Anita Schlitzkus

    Have tried plain flour, water, yeast starters & not totally satisfied. So I am giving the pineapple sourdough starter a try today. So happy I found it. The “why it works” info. makes so much sense. Thanks, I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  8. Joanne

    I love your website and your videos and have been making no knead sourdough bread for a while now. My starter works well (I keep it in the fridge), but it keeps getting “hooch” on the top. I have read that this is an indication that the starter is dying and to pour the hooch off before feeding it. I’ve also read that you can stir the hooch back into the starter when feeding, and no problem. I’ve done both, but the hooch continues to appear — sometimes a lot, sometimes no too much. What is the problem? Is it a problem? And can you tell me how to keep my starter healthy? Thank you, Joanne

    • Hi Joanne,

      The main thing is that it works well, so it doesn’t sound like you have a problem. It can be a bit much for a home baker who may not be baking all that frequently to feed their starter enough to keep it super healthy, but that’s usually the fix… Just feeding it more.

  9. May Althouse

    Hi, i had purchased some starter from you about a week ago and i didn’t get to it right away, so i put it in the refrigerator. I took the instructions off so i could read them and get an idea of what i was suppose to do with it, but i LOST them!!! Uhhhhggggg!!!! Could you please EMAIL me the directions so i can take care of my starter right away.

    Thank you
    May Althouse

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