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.

1,325 thoughts on “Managing Your Sourdough Starter

  1. how can i tell if my starter is good. I started it on july 2 and i have only been feeding it, no bread making yet, but it has a lot of hooch on top when i leave it out and do the feeding and so forth and so on it still dont bubble also my starter is the potato flake kind. can utell me please if what 2do. thanks penelope

  2. Deonia Copeland

    It’s been about 16 hours since I received my live starter that floated around for 5 full days before it arrived. I’ve followed the instructions on the lable and am now seeing what I think are bubbles, but it is still VERY thick. Should I add a bit more water to make it as pasty as yours looks on the video? Or should I wait until the full 24 hours is up and see if I have more action? Deonia

  3. Michael

    Hello, I made my first starter this last week and I now have a very active jar of starter but I suspect there may be some of the wrong bacteria living in there as it smells different than what I’m used to sourdough smelling like. I made a batch of bread and it is not bad but again the flavor is not what I expected. After this I dumped out all but a little bit in my jar and fed it with pineapple juice and all purpose flour in two feedings and now see activity that looks like your video. Previously I was not getting big active bubbles. Will the pineapple juice thwart the bad bacteria if indeed it is living in my starter or should I start over?

  4. Rick E

    I’m a homebrewer, so I have dried malt extract (DME) around. Would it be beneficial to feed the starter the DME given that yeast devour it to make another wonderful yeast -based commodity…beer?

  5. Jon

    Hello…
    How long should I wait after feeding my started to use it again? I started a sour dough bread this morning. It took about half of my starter to make it. I fed it afterwards, doubling it, (this morning), but now I want to make sour dough pizza for dinner….Can I use my starter tonight or should I generally wait a day or so after feeding it before using it again?

    Thanks!

  6. My question is ~ after I have left my starter out on the counter overnite (covered with a lite tea towel) I find that my starter has a crusty/dried out layer on top and on the sides of the jar. What am I suppose to do with it? Do I stir it back into the starter? Or do I dispose of it? And I noticed in your video you mentioned you needed to clean the jar, is that also important?

    • Hi Stephanie,

      Cover your starter with plastic wrap instead of a towel and it won’t crust over and dry out. Could be that you don’t need to let your starter sit out that long. Sometimes just a few hours is sufficient, or not at all.

  7. Deonia Copeland

    Hi, i’m getting ready to order some of your live starter and can hardly wait to make some of your Sourdough Rye bread per your instructions. But I have just recently learned a new ( to me) technique of Peter Reinhart’s using a biga/soaker process in which the biga has a bit of instant yeast added and the soaker has only salt. then the actual bread is made using more yeast. Is it possible to convert your whohle-grain sourdough recipe to use this process? I was thinking maybe I could add maybe a T. of sourdough starter to the biga, and then add the rest of the required starter to the dough at actual baking time. Could this be done or am I way off track on this? I want to do this using your whole-grain recipe.

    • Hi Deonia,

      Sure, you can do that. As with many recipe variations, just give it a try and take notes so you can duplicate it if it works out as you like, or alter if it doesn’t.

  8. CindyT

    Thanks. The starter I received from you last week is doing swimmingly, by the way. Head and shoulders above the rather insipid stuff I cultured myself. Don’t know what the problem is with that – perhaps Alabama just has weak yeast ;-).

  9. Hi Cindy,

    The amount you feed it can be all over the place. Sometimes I add just a little flour and water if my starter is already in good shape and I want to give it a “snack”. Sometimes I double it, sometimes triple. The whole process of caring for starter is totally flexible.

    When you combine a cup of flour and a cup of water, it doesn’t make 2 cups, it’s something much less since the water fills in spaces around and between the flour molecules… or something like that… I think.

  10. CindyT

    I need a clarification on the amount to feed. Forgive me, but math really isn’t my strong suit. I’ve been feeding 1:1:1 by weight (I weigh so I can keep at least one variable out of it) yet it seems that this would *more* than double. It seems that to actually *double* would be more along the lines of 1:.5:.5.

    Help?

  11. Bob Berman

    Hi – I have a problem with my starter. I keep it in the fridge, feed it weekly, and bake about twice a week. Recently, I forgot to feed it for a couple of weeks (we were away) and now it is not rising properly.
    When we mix of the normal no-knead batch, after the 18 hours it has barely risen. We leave it for another 12 and it finally rises but the dough at that point is very wet and sticky and almost unusable. Any advice would be appreciated; I really don’t want to make a new starter but if that is necessary, so be it. And thanks for all the advice and recipes.

  12. Carla

    Hello Breadtopia, Recently I have had hooch forming on my starter. I am following your instructions for feeding it but still have a small amount of hooch forming. I bake once or twice a week. I usually feed it a day or two prior to baking, using about 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup water once a day. Do I need to use a larger amount of flour? The bread is doing great and the “beer” smell is gone. On behalf of myself and all the other novice bread makers out there, thank you so much for a great website and all the advice you take time to give us!!!

  13. Karen

    Thank you so much for your answers, I am very excited about having a sourdough starter, and want to do the right things to keep it viable.

  14. Wil

    Karen,
    If you are not using your starter regularly, say once every week or two, yes, you will have to dump out a quarter or even half of it and then replenish with equal amounts of flour and water. Then put it back into the refrigerator. You can use what you take out to make pancakes or something if you don’t like throwing it away.

    If you have used your starter in the past week, you can just take it out of the refrigerator and use it, replenish and put back into the fridge. If it has been awhile since you used or fed your starter, you may want to feed it first before making your bread again depending on your bread making method. If you plan to store your dough in the refrigerator for a day or more before you bake, you do not need to use a freshly fed starter.

  15. Karen

    Hello,
    I guess I am really dense when it comes to managing my starter.
    I used the pineapple juice technique, and have used it once and fed
    it. I then refrigerated the starter.
    Question: Do I always dump some out of give it to somebody before I feed it again?
    Question: When I take it from the fridge to make bread to I pour some out and feed it first before using?
    I am sorry, I just don’t get all the details.
    Thanks so much!

  16. Judith Loischild

    Well I am trying to revitalize some starter that’s been in the fridge without any maintenance for about 2 weeks. I poured off the hooch and proceeded as directed in the video after 6 hours I have a lot of bubbling but no increase in volume. should I Half this amount and start again or something else? HELP

  17. Gary

    Lately I’ve been using a starter with equal amounts of water to flour and one that is very heavy. In my pancakes if I use one cup each the rise is about double that of the normal starter that is explained here. Over the weekend I used the heavier starter and my bread had a better rise to it than it had before. What is the reasoning for this? Both get the same attention and mixed at the same times.

  18. Hi Carla,

    If I’m not going to bake for a few days or more, I’ll put my starter straight away into the fridge after feeding it. If I’m going to bake within a day or so, I’ll leave it out for a while.

  19. Hi Andrew,

    Doubling starter when you feed is just a general guideline. I consider it more of a minimum amount to help keep a starter really healthy. More is even better. So sure, add almost as much flour and water as you want.

  20. JohnnyP to: Andrew

    Andrew asked, “Can you explain why you can’t just add two cups to say 1/2 cup of starter instead of being limited to only doubling it?”

    My Understanding:
    1) When feeding your starter, you are trying to maintain the optimal symbiotic relationship between your yeast and your lactobacillus. Double feeding, as you suggest (to quadrupal the starter), makes a more drastic change in that enviroment. If your starter is healthy, there will likely be no problem (especially if you stir it a few times per day; see below). If your starter is unhealthy, you are likely inviting new strains to the game.

    2) The act of single feeding (doubling the starter) forces you to stir the starter more often than if you fed it more and waited longer. More frequent stirring introduces more oxygen, which also significantly changes the enivorment (less anaerobic hooch).

    JohnnyP

  21. Karen

    Hi,
    I tried the starter and after 72 hours it is bubbling and looks great.
    Can’t wait to use it.
    Thanks so much for the info.

  22. Andrew

    Thanks, got mine going first try based on your pineapple juice instructions. Can you explain why you can’t just add two cups to say 1/2 cup of starter instead of being limited to only doubling it? I’d just like to understand why this is.

    so
    1/2 cup of starter, you can only add 1/2 cup of flour
    next day: 1 cup of starter, you can only add 1 cup of flour

    but not
    1/2 cup of starter, you add 2 cups of flour for your recipe that requires and wait say an extra day to make sure it’s very active. Can’t do this?

  23. Carla

    Hello again…….When you feed your starter, how long do you keep it at room temperature before refrigerating again? You suggested to feed it for several days, do you keep it on the counter the whole time or refrigerate it after a certain length at room temp? Thanks so much!!!

  24. Roxane Foulger

    Hello,

    I am new to the whole sourdough starter thing. My starter is new…only 3 days old. I have been feeding it everyday and after browsing the web I took someone’s suggestion and added a pinch of sugar when feeding it yesterday. Up to that point it was fermenting and bubbling, but since i added the sugar it hasnt bubbled and I now see what looks like hootch on top of the starter. Was it wrong to add the sugar? Also, how long do I proof and feed the starter for before I can send it to the fridge? I have been keeping it in the oven uncovered. Should I loosely cover it? Should I bake a loaf with it first before preserving it? Thank you so much, Roxane

  25. Hi Carla,

    That liquid forming on your starter is hooch (alcohol) and typically a sign the starter isn’t really all that healthy. A healthy starter won’t form hooch. It’s not going to hurt you to use it. Some people stir it back in and some pour it off. That doesn’t matter so much. What I would do is feed your starter well several days in a row until it’s very healthy and no hooch forming. Once your starter is in top shape, it should be a lot easier to keep it that way. And hopefully that would also solve the smelly bread issue.

  26. Carla

    Hello…..I began a starter about 6 months ago. The bread has been great until the last few loaves. I bake almost weekly and feed my starter about the same. Recently, some of the loaves of baked bread have a fermented, beer type smell. They taste great but don’t smell so great. Sometimes it isn’t until we are half way thru the loaf. Is my starter bad? When I feed or use my starter should I pour off the liquid on top or mix it back in? Thank you so very much. Carla, Iowa

  27. jane

    Hello, Your video was great and I learned so much…however, I didn’t watch it soon enough… my starter was in the fridge for about a month. I took it out and added flour and water. It did not double after sitting overnight. Since I added more flour than I should have with the water, as I was following a Tassajara recipe, I hate to pour out the whole thing…can I still make bread with this using a yeasted recipe or is there still a chance to save the whole batch? Thank you.

    • Hi Jane,

      It might still come back if you feed it daily for a few more days. But if it’s showing no signs of life, while you could use it in a recipe with commercial yeast, I’m not sure what added value there would be.

  28. Hi Susan,

    That’s probably it. You might try feeding it several times over the course of a few days to try and get it super healthy again. A healthy starter won’t form hootch and once it’s healthy it will be much less likely to form hootch even if you’re only using and feeding it once a week.

  29. Susan

    My starter seems to develop “hooch” very quickly. Also I don’t think it has been getting that proper pungent smell as it used to.
    Could it be that I need to feed it more often during the week between baking? I tend to bake once a week.
    By the way, I love this website! It’s amazing and inspiring!
    Thanks in advance for your help!
    Susan in Toronto

  30. laurie noel

    Hi, my daughter -in-law turned me on to your site and it is wonderful. I am learning so much . A friend shared some starter with me although I am looking forward to making my own. My question is “what can I use for a proofing bowl until I get a real one?” I have an oblong Romertopf, which was a birthday present, which I will be using for the first time. Thank you , sincerely, Laurie Noel

    • Hi Laurie,

      Since oblong bowls aren’t all that common, you should be able to get by with a round bowl lined with a well floured towel. Also, many people proof their dough in a bowl lined with parchment paper. Then you can lift the parchment paper out along with the dough and place the whole thing in your Romertopf when it’s time to bake. The dough should conform sufficiently to the oblong Romertopf base.

  31. Patricia

    Hi, many thanks for your thorough explanations. I managed to bake a delicious spelt sourdough bread, still a bit heavy, but I suppose it was due to fluctuation of room temperature. The thing is, I was going to bake some more and I found out that I “committed the crime” of keeping the started in an air-tight glass jar. In other words, I “killed the mother”(how does that sound?!). Is there anyway I can recup from here? Or do I have to make a new starter all over again?

  32. Hi Lisa,

    I never add sugar to my starter. The starter itself will convert the starch in the flour to usable sugars. No need to add yeast either, there’s plenty of that already in a typical starter. Just flour and water is all that’s necessary.

  33. Hi Gary –

    Wow, that’s a lot of bread. While I don’t have experience with managing anywhere near that volume of starter, I don’t see why you couldn’t scale up gradually following the same methods you’re using now.

  34. Hi Lisa –

    This reply is a bit too late, but for future reference, as long as your starter is fairly healthy, feeding it in the morning should have it in great shape for using again that evening. You could then feed it that evening and use it again in the morning. Getting 2 uses per day out of the same batch of starter is probably about the max.

    As for whether it will go bad, quite the opposite is true. The more often you feed your starter, the more robust it becomes.

  35. denise

    I just made starter with wheat flour and yeast. just want to make sure i am not adding any sugar yet. the instructions (from this website a while ago) are not clear on when to add sugar. Am I feeding the mix with yeast? thnaks

  36. Gary

    I am baking breads every Friday with the sour dough reciepe and so far so good. I bake to help feed the homeless so now I am up to about 150 loaves of bread each Friday. At the kitchen were I do the volunteering we have the sour dough mix going in 5 gallon buckets, we always seem to have plenty of starter to go around now they wold like me to come in every day to monitor the stuff so that we can make bread everyday using the reciepe that Eric gave. Is there anything I need to watch for or make sure I am doing we will be going from 2 buckets to 10.l

  37. Hi,
    If I activated my starter last night, used it this morning, can I activate it again this morning to be used tonight for biscuits? To take the question further… lets say I did that all week, would it go bad. What are its limits? I’m sure that the room temperature does have something to do with it.

    Thank you
    Lisa

  38. Marisa

    It’s been several years since I’ve worked with sour dough. I now have a San Francisco sourdough. I’d like to find some high gluten flour that doesn’t cost a fortune to ship. I’ve always used Sir Lancelot but right now for 3# it is over $6.oo and that does not include shipping. Any suggestions. I’d like to buy in bulk.

  39. Charlie

    OK, I’ve been playing with sourdough for awhile, and your video makes it a lot better, I have made 4 breads and pancakes. Figured out the starter was a bit too new, as the frist two sourdough breads were a bit heavy, needed more time. Anyway, I am now trying to find a Wheatberry recipe, whole wheat with Honey would be perfect. Any ideas where I might find or adapt such a recipe.

  40. Hi John G.

    You can thaw it out and just mix in some flour and water and see if it comes back to life. However, freezing live starter can kill it, so it might not work.

  41. John G.

    I froze my sourdough starter in January of this year. Can I revive my starter again and resume baking? If so, how can I go about it?

  42. Linda

    Hi Ria, my starters are around 28 days old. I have a pure white ( very lazy) and a wholemeal ( very lively). I only started baked with them after 14 days of feeding, the first bakes was not very succesful. The starters seem to get more bubbly the longer they lived. I now bake every day with my wholemeal starter and bake once a week with my white starter. The white sarter was only refrigerated after 21 days as yet my wholemeal has never made it to the fridge. This might be the reason its a better one. I really dont know, all i will say is be consistent I never followed any strict formula just added flour and water every day at approx the same time and with the wholemeal starter i used up all the wee bits of flour from a variety of types. Spelt wholemeal, stoneground rye ect. And thats the starter that works the best. I try to add the same quantity of flour and water that is left after disgarding. If your anything like me throwing away some starter is very distressing. Thats why I bake everyday as the starter i take out i use in a pre-ferment for baking bread in 24 hours. I really think its about keeping at it. When i first started after about 7 days the sarters looked rather “odd” i just kept going and by day 14 they looked very healthy. Good luck

  43. Ria

    Hi, can anybody tell me what to do with the sourdough starter after the five day’s, do I put it in the fridge and is it ready to use now. Do I feed it more, its not really bubbly. What do I do???

    Thanks
    Ria

  44. cecile cua

    dear sir,

    is there a ratio for starter and regular flour which we used in bread baking? i usually used 600 gms flour for bread..in this case, how much starter can i use????
    if i knew the right ratio, i don’t have to worry about adding too much or too less in my recipe.
    thank you very much for your time and hoping to hear from you soon.

    cecile

  45. Gary

    Hi Eric,
    I went back a re watched your video’s and discovered what I was doing wrong I wasn’t using purified water and that is why I was getting so much hooch. So I drained off the hooch until my starter was almost dried out or very thick and started rebuilding with purified water. It did the trick.

    Also, in my last writing to you about the rye sour dough recipe I added the orange zest this time and a cup of raisins 1/2 cup blonde and 1/2 regular and spayed the bottom of the cooking dish and everything worked out great! Its Rye bread with raisins in it next loaf I will be adding cinnamon to see if it come out like I expect it too. Did you try the recipe yet?

  46. Aleta Durney

    Hello, Thank you for your video. It was great and very informative. I had a very dark houche (?spelling) on my starter and it has been neglected for about month. I poured it off as you suggested and added my cup of flour and then 3/4 cup of water. I was concerned most about the color of the houche. Can you please advise. Thank you, Aleta

  47. Shirley

    In your video where you are managing a starter that hasn’t been feed for a couple weeks; after you have fed the culture you say, “. . . and let it sit at room temperature. If I was planning on baking with it; and since I haven’t used this starter in two or three weeks, I’m probably going to want to feed it over the course of a couple days to bring it up to full potency.”

    My question is, how many days can you safely let your starter sit at room temperature, while you are bringing the culture up to full potency?

    Shirley

  48. Gary

    Eric,
    I have been keeping my starter out in room temp and today is the first day I added it to the refrigerator. My question to you is that a couple of times a day my starter developes a hooch on the top of the starter is this normal?

    Secondly, my white flour starter that I keep refrig. smells like glue is this normal I am guessing not.

    What should I do if anything. I should tell you that the wheat starter that I just added to the refrig. today is very bubbly I have that in two containers and more than likely have about a quart and a half between them.

    Your rye sour dough I made again yesterday, the kids ate all the oranges so I substituted 2 1/2 cups of reconstituted raisens and left the dough out on top of the refrigerator for its 12 hour rise not thinking the kids would be in and out of the refrig a hundred times slamming the door. Well I used the dough anyway it came out very moist, bottom of the bread stuck to the dish and had to be yanked out. Very moist but toasted and smeared with butter oh so good. Needless to say it didn’t get a good rise. It could have either used more flour or less raisens. You should try it and let me know.
    Please get back to me about the hooch like to know if that is normal and also the white flour starter.

    Gary

  49. Frankie

    Thanks Keith. My starters are doing much better, they are jusssst doubling, but no more than that. I am so jealous of these starters I see bubbling over the tops of containers. I am attempting to do my first sourdough with one starter that has been predictably doubling for about 3 days now. I mixed the starter with flour and water and set it out overnight. Great bubbling action to be sure, but it will not pass the float test which means it’s not ready. I just put it in a warmer place to see if that would kick up the activity a notch. Now is the time I wish I had a bread partner nearby! Thanks for the encouragement! – Frankie

  50. Frankie,

    I had the selfsame problem with the starter I recently, well, started. It would bubble a bit and smell good but never come close to doubling. used it to bake some bread and waffles and it worked ok but not spectacular.

    Unwilling to pitch and start over, I just continued to feed it daily. After another week or so, the thing just popped, and I realized people weren’t exaggerating when they said it would double. At this point it could nearly double in about 6 hours.

    So, my scantily informed advice is to keep feeding it for another week, from the smell you can tell that its ok and on its way, just needs to get over that hump.

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