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.

Managing Your Sourdough Starter

Comments

  1. saarsalem says:

    Is it okay if I leave my starter in room temperature all the time as long as i feed it once a day?

  2. Eric says:

    Yes. Some bakeries do it that way since they're using it daily. But it can be a little tricky unless you are using it to bake daily. If you're not drawing from it daily then just a little bit of feeding probably won't be enough and the right amount of feeding may result in you ending up with a ton of starter before long. It may just take some experimenting to find a routine that works for you and your starter.

  3. saarsalem says:

    thank you very much.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I returned from vacation the other day and when I took my starter out of the fridge to feed it the top 1/2" had turned an unhealthy-looking bluish-grey color. Rather alarming! I skimmed the discolored portion off and fed the starter as usual, but is it safe to use...?

  5. Eric says:

    You did just the right thing. You might want to feed it once more now just for good measure, if you haven't already. Your experience isn't unusual and your starter will be fine. Not unsafe to use.

  6. Katrina says:

    I would like to give a friend some starter but have a couple questions. .. 1. should I feed my starter before I give it to her, or give her the cup unfed for her to feed? 2. If I do not feed it before I give it to her, how soon should she feed it? 3.Should she let it sit on the counter to bubble up before storing in fridge? 4.Lastly, I had read that a thinner starter will have a more sour flavor, is this true?

  7. Eric says:

    I would feed it before giving it to her and tell her she should keep it in the fridge and feed it again within a week. Then I'd direct her to this page so she can learn how to manage it.

    I've read that a thicker starter will produce a more sour flavor. open_mouth

Earlier Comments

1,522 thoughts on “Managing Your Sourdough Starter

  1. Amber

    Hello. I have been maintaining my sourdough starter with no problems, despite my warm house (85F on average, because no air conditioning). Last week, temperatures rose to the high 90s with high humidity and my starter stopped reacting to feedings. I’ve kept it and am still trying to revive it. In the meantime, I’ve started another starter. I used 4oz APF + 4oz water, and it has already doubled in size and smells very sour. I have not fed it at all yet. I’ve never heard of the starter doubling in size before it’s been fed, and when it’s only been mixed together about 24 hours. Is this ok? Also, it smells sour, but sweeter and more mellow than my regular starter

  2. Can I use freshly milled flour (white, rye or barley). I recently purchased a flour mill. Or should I just use white store bought flour for the sourdough starter?

    • Sure. Almost any kind of flour can be used successful to feed and maintain a healthy starter.

  3. Ted

    Hi … I was wondering, if you bake bread every 3 days, do you need to refrigerate your starter. I love the sourdough starter I got from breadtopia and I have had luck in just keeping it on the counter on a loosely covered bowl and feeding it every day. Is this OK, or do I have to put the starter in the fridge to keep it “Good”. After such a good start on baking bread I don’t want my starter to go “bad”. To fridge or not to fridge – That is the question ….

  4. Constance

    Thank you, Eric…I will try that.

  5. Constance

    Based on what I have read that others have done, I have reduced some of my starter and fed it a small amount…it still isn’t responding and it now has an almost vinegary fragrance and there is very little bubbling and no expanding…so…is it dead? I have it out on the counter, hoping that it will begin to respond….is there anything else I can do to revive it?

    • Hi Constance,

      From this and your previous post, it sounds like you’ve tried feeding it a couple different ways and the results have not been good. It’s hard to overfeed starter so maybe you need to feed it more. Toss all but a few tablespoons of your starter and feed that with a cup of white flour and 2/3 cup of water and let it sit out at room temp for several hours to as long as all day and see how it looks.

  6. Constance

    I think I posted this question to the wrong place, so I will try again. My starter seems to be dying. I followed directions after receiving it and it seemed to be going quite well. I refrigerated it after it had reached the size to be transferred into the starter jars. It still seemed to be doing very well. I took a jar out and warmed it to room temperature before feeding it to get it ready for baking, and it seemed to be doing well. One site I have been reading suggested testing the starter before trying to bake with it, which consists of dropping a tsp of the starter into a cup of water…if it sinks, it needs to be fed again; if it floats, it is ready to begin mixing with ingredients for baking. My starter sank, two different times, so I fed it each time. Now it seems to have lost its bubbling and some of its sour fragrance…did I over feed it? I tried my second jar, with the same results, so I’m thinking this “test” is all wrong! Is the starter dying? Can it be saved? Any help would be appreciated VERY much!

  7. Jerome

    I accidentally posted to this part of the site but I do have a question – perhaps more of an observation. After making a rye starter with good success, i decided to try a white starter. After reading about hydration levels I thought a 166% starter was the thing – basically one cup of flour to one cup of water. After over a week the starter was still looking pretty thin and pathetic. I also noticed there was quite a bit of liquid on top when I fed it. So I decided to up the flour ratio and go with 50-50 by weight aka a 100% starter if I’m understanding correctly. Viola! my starter became more vigorous almost immediately and is now doubling between feedings. I have now put it in the refrigerator for longer storage. So am I correct in thinking unless you’re baking with it all the time a “thicker” starter is more forgiving? Thanks for the great site and helpful tips!

  8. Jerome

    I saw an article on the web about using a red cabbage leaf to make a sourdough starter and decided to give it a shot. To my surprise, it worked! After that I was hooked and started googling all kinds of sourdough stuff and came across your site Breadtopia. After watching your video on making a sourdough rye, I decided to go ahead and order a Romertopf baker. I must say it was the best fifty bucks I’ve spent since I lost my virginity. I also got a banneton and a pair of oven gloves. The results were fantastic. What a huge difference the Romertopf made! I’ve now made a few loaves of sourdough and the baker has performed flawlessly every time. The rye bread recipe worked just as you showed it. The only thing I changed was I added honey in place of the molasses and added a tablespoon of dark cocao powder to give it the color. It tasted great!

  9. Hello! One of my starters has been in the fridge for a few months and I noticed the hooch is actually black… I just followed your instructions this morning to revive it, but I’m wondering if I need to be concerned that the liquid was black? Can I still use the starter?

    Love your site and all your helpful information… thank you!

  10. amanda

    Hi I was given some starter over a year ago and was unsuccessful at my bread making attempt. I was told never to throw starter away because u can always save it. Im wanting to try again, its been refrigerated the whole time. How do I save it and start again?

  11. Val

    My starter forms a thick yellowish skin, almost a damp crust overnight. Should I discard it or mix it in What am I doing wrong? Help!

  12. Hello Eric…
    I am back to brad baking after several months hiatus…long story…so my starter sat in the fridge all that time…so I fed it and it appeared very active but the bread I made is VERY sour…too much so…I think….not pleasant…so in reading the blog comments it seems I just have to dispose of most of it ( 80%) and start feeding equal amounts of flour and water and leave it out on the counter and continue to repeat that process until it smells sweeter or less sour…
    Is this remotely right? The temp in my kitchen is about 70or 72…
    I am also interested in learning about making LEAVEN….as baker Jim Lahey writes about…
    Appreciate any advice ….
    Carol Wharton

    • Hi Carol,

      Yes, that’s right. Equal weights (not volume) of flour and water is good.
      Leaven is just another name for sourdough starter.

  13. betty

    Does the starter need to be at room temperature before you begin the recipe?

    • Hi Betty,

      No. Cold starter will just add a tad of time to the proofing time.

  14. Liz

    So, I think I might have fed my starter too much – could that by why it’s not rising? I probably had about a cup of starter left and added two cups of flour & a little less than 2 cups of water to it. Mixed it, left it on the counter, and it doesn’t look like it’s doing anything… Will it eventually do something? I’m just not sure if I should continue to leave it on the counter or put it in the fridge or what… My bread that I tried to make with it (before I fed it, as my recipe calls for unfed starter) failed to rise also… I’m not sure why. I’m stumped. I’m fairly new to sourdough, and I just don’t know what to do from this point – any suggestions?? Thanks in advance! – Liz

    • Morgan

      Has your starter been doubling been size between feedings? If not, what’s the temperature like where it’s sitting? I bought a cheapo terrarium thermometer to keep track. 72-80 is prime, according to what I’ve read.

  15. betty

    My new starter has been resting in the fridge. I want to make bread in two days. How long before baking the bread do I have to have it out of the fridge. Thanks!

  16. LJ

    Hello. Thank you for posting the starter recipe and video. I was able to make what appears to be a healthy starter first try. I was even able to bake a loaf of bread with it. The bread had nice texture, color, and crust. The problem is it lacks that sour dough flavor and tartness. It was kind of bland. How do I get that sourdough flavor and tartness in my starter?

    Thanks!

    • Liza Saturley

      Hi LJ,

      A fresh and healthy starter is mild-tasting. Managing sourdough to achieve your desired degree of sour flavor is challenging. Below are some suggestions that have worked for some, though I haven’t tried all of them myself.

      Increasing the sour flavor:

      -Proof at elevated temperatures (80°F/27°C and higher).
      -Proof at lower temperatures for a prolonged time period. Proofing in the fridge for several hours or overnight and then resuming at room temperature may work.
      -Use smaller amounts of starter in the recipes which prolongs the time it takes until dough is ready to bake
      -It might help to “abuse” your starter by not feeding it for several days. The longer starter goes unfed the more sour it tends to become which might translate into a more sour bread.
      -Use leftover soaked sour bread, such as rye bread, to your starter, which can increase the sour flavor – a method called Altus.
      -Add a pinch of ascorbic acid (vitamin C powder available in many health food stores) to increase the sour flavor.
      -Add a couple of Tablespoons of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar with mother to the sponge. I’m told it doesn’t affect the rise and it increases the sour flavor.

      Hope you find some useful information above. Please let us know what works and what doesn’t, should you choose to experiment.

      Thanks!
      Liza at Breadtopia

  17. Sharon Higginbotham

    Love your website. Thank you for the helpful information! I’m brand new to making sour dough starter and watched the how to make your own starter video, how to manage, how to make sour dough rye bread . My question is, once I have completed the last step of making my starter (add 1/4 c flour) how long before I can use the starter for bread, mins, hours, days? Thanks for your help! Sharon

  18. Edna

    Starter (APF + water) bubbling (about day 4) but not smelling very yeasty or sour. Observations? Suggestions?

  19. Is it really necessary to use a rye starter when making a rye sour dough bread? Will using a white starter dramatically effect the outcome of the bread’s taste,? i.e., lose the rye flavor. Most of the recipes that I have seen only use a limited amount of the starter and my thinking is because the larger amount of rye flour in the recipe will over compensate for using the white flour starter. I have a white starter for over 15 years and had developed it after following Nancy Silverton’s instructions from her cookbook, LaBrea Bakery. I refresh it weekly with 10 0z of starter water and flour but when I bake I refresh it two times every eight hours with 18 oz. starter,22 oz. flour and thirty two oz. of filtered water. I never baked any rye or whole wheat breads with a sour dough can you recommend a couple of good solid baking bred books on Rye’s and whole wheat breads. Thank You
    Respectfully,
    Frank Tardalo

    • Edna

      Mak sure you soak any non APF overnight before adding yeast. Let sit about 30-45 minutes after mixing and before kneading. It makes a huge difference in quality and lightness of outcome.

  20. 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

    • Marty Brown

      Wee… on your pancake question, there’s not a definite answer. Sourdough can be drippy wet or very pasty – so the amount of water content of your sourdough starter will determine how much you would need per kilogram of flour. Some pancake recipes call for the entire mix – other than oil or eggs or other non-flour ingredients – to be made up of sourdough starter: in other words, no added flour. (I make my pancakes this way since I love a really pronounced sourdough flavor.) Try experimenting with much smaller quantities than a KG of flour and record your results.

      On the three different starter question, I’m a bit surprised that you are finding it take three days to get your starter to reactivate after feeding. If you are refrigerating your starter, I could understand that. But if you are planning on using your starter every day, or even just three times a week, I wouldn’t refrigerate the starter at all. When I bake sourdough bread, I take the starter out of the refrigerator the day before I start the bread, feed it and after the night on the counter, it is bubbly and perky as a kitten. On day two, I mix the ingredients for the bread, then set the dough in a greased bowl overnight and then form the loaf on day three.

  21. 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

  22. 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

  23. 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.

  24. 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 ;-).

  25. 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

        • So Alex, in those four days did you feed the starter or do anything with it at all?

          I am getting back into sourdough after an 18-month break and got a 1/4 cup starter from a class. Left it in the fridge overnight, then the following afternoon fed it about equal amounts flour and water and left it on the counter. Forgot to check it until the next morning (today), and it hadn’t risen at all–just had a layer of liquid on top!

          Tried feeding it again this morning but with a bit more flour this time, and then put it in the hot water cupboard to keep it a bit warmer. Still nada. Eh??

          Not sure if I should discard some and keep feeding it and out on the counter…??? It smells good, and I can see some bubbles, but it’s just not rising! Never had this issue with the last starter I kept.

    • Marty Brown

      As Alex says, the sourdough isn’t likely to go crazy in the refrigerator… you may get some small bubbles, but if you want to see the volume increase, warm it up on the counter of your kitchen. Despite all the romantic notions, sourdough is just wild yeast. Normal Red Star Yeast won’t multiply much in the refrigerator either, but give it something to eat and it will at about 90 degrees!

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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

  29. Not related to King Arthur

    I haven’t been brainwashed by the King Arthur web pages so I NEVER throw away any of my starter. I have kept my starter alive and well outside of the refrigerator and I bake any time I want to. My bread comes out delicious and rises very well without commercial yeast. There seems to be a culture out there of throwing away starter (More money for the flour makers – yea!), but it is not necessary as long as you bake at least once in a week. If you don’t want to bake once a week, at least make pancakes out of your starter. The idea here is to adjust down the remaining starter based on how long you want to wait before your next bread making. I have, for example 1 1/4 cup of starter. I use 1 cup of starter for my recipe and that leaves 1/4 cup in the container. Now I feed it with 1/8 (what?!) cup of flour/water mix. That’s if folks. I don’t have to DOUBLE my starter each time I feed it. And it doesn’t die? No, it does not die. King Arthur told you wrong. So I keep feeding my starter until I get another 1 1/4 cups and then I am ready to make bread. If I want to make bread sooner I just feed it more. Just remember, yeast eats flour and produces more yeast. It just takes time for the yeast to do its job. So if I only have 1/4 cup of starter and I want to make bread the next day, I feed it with 1 cup of flour/water, but I can’t make the bread until the 1/4 cup of yeast has consumed the 1 cup I added. But believe me, once your yeast is active you can give it a double feeding and it will eat and divide in time for your baking. So my experience has been that starter can be feed 1/2 its volume up to 4 times its volume and still be ready to make bread the next day. Just experiement around with the portions and don’t let King Arthur dictate your starter maintenence.

    • Brian

      I have a septic system. It thrives on sourdough starter. It is also very healthy for my compost pile but mind the flies.

  30. Suze

    Breadtopia said ” A healthy, well fed starter won’t form the hooch.”

    I read a gazillion pages of posts here and at the Starter Doc (rec.food.sourdough FAQ.Starter.Doctor) @ http://www.faqs.org/faqs/food/sourdough/starters/

    So I threw out all but a scant quarter cup of the potato starter that I had made and saw double/triple within the first day I started it. I discarded all of the other 3 jars of starter.

    On Tuesday this week I started with a clean jar and fed the few tablespoons of potato starter with 1 cup King Arthur unbleached flour and a quarter cup of Bob’s Red Mill dark rye flour. It burst into life overnight and filled the jar and water to make a thick batter.

    Day 2 I stirred it down and fed it again this time (and with all successive feedings) just King Arthur unbleached and water only. I used the discard to start another jar just in case. That jar reacted as well as the first.

    On day 3 I saved the discard from each of the 2 jars and went to bed leaving 4 jars brewing. I woke up this morning to find all 4 jars brimmed over with a beautiful sweet smelling sponge that went thru the 2 oven racks to leave a horrendous mess on the oven bottom! Yikes!

    I took the jars out one at a time stirred them down and fed each and each one in less than an hour they started to double/ triple, but I was smart and put a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet on the second rack and watched carefully.

    There was no hooch on the top of any of the 4 jars :o) I plan on drying the contents of at least 2 of the jars in a few days when I have time.

    The rye flour was a miracle worker with my potato starter and now I can pat myself on the back that the starter is all mine! It even looks like my starter is trying to grow in the refrigerator in my loosely covered jars. I hope I don’t have to scrub out the fridge next!

    Sorry for the ‘mini book’ I wrote here, my experience may just help someone else.

    Suze

    • Thanks for the informative post!

  31. Lorie

    Hello, I’ve been doing a starter for a few weeks now and keeping it at room temp.. The past week I forgot about the starter and it sat a couple of days without getting feed. It is still very active (maybe too much so?) and very sour. Is it possible that my starter has gone “too sour” if I feed it is it safe to use? I poured out excess and was hoping to make pancakes and feed the remaining cup or so. Is this safe?
    Thanks for your post!

    • If you feed it once or twice it should be fine. Discarding all but a small amount and feeding that until you have a sufficient amount to use is probably a good idea.

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