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How to Feed & Maintain your Sourdough Starter

You’ve done it! You’ve created a living batter filled with wild yeast. Now let’s see how to feed & maintain your sourdough starter.

If you haven’t made your starter yet, visit this post to see how to make a sourdough starter from scratch.

stirring flour and water into sourdough starter to feed

Right off the bat I’m going to say that there are a million ways to feed, maintain and use a sourdough starter. In fact, after you’re done reading this post, you should read through my instructions for How to keep a small sourdough starter to see of that method would work better for you.

I am going to outline for you how I maintain my sourdough starters. I tend to have a fairly relaxed attitude towards the process. It works for me and I think my approach can work for you if you don’t bake bread every single day (and even if you do).

At the end of the post you’ll find a how-to card that lists the ingredient amounts and steps to follow each time you feed your starter.

But first I’m going to give you all the how’s and why’s and try to answer any questions you might have.

Tips for using and maintaining your sourdough starter:

  • Since I don’t bake every day, I keep my starters (yes, I have 3) in the refrigerator.
  • If I’m making a 2-day recipe (most of mine are) I take the starter out of the refrigerator early in the morning of the day I’m making the dough. If the starter is inactive I feed it right away and it should be ready by early afternoon.
  • If I’m making a 1-day recipe, I’ll take the starter out the night before and feed it if it’s inactive. It should be ready to use first thing in the morning.
  • When the starter is cold from the refrigerator, I feed the starter using fairly warm water, warmer than body temp. The warm water will jump-start the cold starter.
  • If the starter has been fed within the last 2-3 days, and has been refrigerated, you can probably go ahead and use it without feeding.
  • If you’re not sure if the starter is active, drop a dollop into a bowl of water to see if it floats. If it does, it’s ready for baking.
  • I write all my sourdough recipes to use 8 oz of active starter. After using 8 oz of starter in the recipe, I’m left with 4 oz of starter, exactly the right amount for feeding.
a bowl of water with a dollop of sourdough starter
A dollop of the starter should float when it’s ready and active.

Schedule for feeding your sourdough starter:

  • Your starter needs to be fed about 1x per week if refrigerated, and every day if left at room temperature.
  • Generally, about 5-6 hours after feeding my starter is ready. The time may vary based on room temp, dough temp, etc. The starter should have doubled in volume and started to recede and/or pass the float test.
  • I take my starter out of the refrigerator once a week for feeding, even if I’m not baking. Although, truth be told, I often go longer than a week between feedings and I haven’t killed it yet.
  • Did you know you can dry your sourdough starter? Dried starter can be kept indefinitely.
  • After you’ve removed the portion of starter for baking, feed the starter again and leave it at room temperature for 3-4 hours before putting it back in the refrigerator.
3 side by side photos showing how to feed sourdough starter
To feed your sourdough starter, weigh out 4 oz each of starter, water and flour.

FAQs about feeding & maintaining Sourdough Starter:

What if I forget to feed my starter for several weeks?

Honestly, I’ve gone longer than a month without feeding my starter and I haven’t killed it yet. Give it a feeding and see if it wakes up. If it’s alive, keep feeding it until it is reliably doubling in size within 4-5 hours.

Can I use a neglected starter as soon as it’s been fed?

If you go more than about 2 weeks between feedings, you might want to give the starter 2-3 feedings before using. A starter that hasn’t been fed for weeks will be quite sluggish and your dough won’t be as lively.

Can I make dough with cold starter straight from the refrigerator?

If your starter was fed a day or two before, it’s possible to use the starter straight from the refrigerator. Give it a float test to make sure it’s active. The dough may take a little longer to ferment since the temperature of the dough will be colder.

What is that gray liquid on top of my starter, has it died?

It’s called “hooch” and don’t worry, your starter is still alive. Just stir that water back into the starter before feeding. Again, you might need 2 feedings to completely revive the starter since it’s been quite dormant.

Do I have to weigh the ingredients?

To maintain your starter at 100% hydration it is best and most accurate to weigh your ingredients. If you’re just a little bit off every time you feed, eventually, your starter could be thrown out of balance.

What if a recipe calls for less than 8 oz of starter?

No problem, use the amount of starter called for in the recipe. Then weigh out 4 oz of the remaining starter for feeding and discard the rest.

Do I have to discard starter?

If you continually feed the starter without discarding, you’ll end up drowning in starter.

Can I bake with the discard?

Yes, even if the discard is not active enough for baking bread, you can add it to many other recipes as a flavor and texture enhancer.

If I go on vacation, do I have to take the starter with me?

Unless you’re going away for an extended time, your starter should be just fine for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. If you’ll be gone really long-term, put the starter into the freezer or dry it. Frozen or dried starter will need several feedings to rejuvenate.

Since you’ve got your starter fed, peruse the entire list of My Best Sourdough Recipes. Have fun!

If you appreciate this detailed information, I’d really appreciate a 5-star review.

How to Feed Sourdough Starter

How to Feed Sourdough Starter

Yield: 12 oz starter
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Difficulty: Medium

Here are the amounts listed for feeding Sourdough Starter.

Materials

  • 4 oz (112g) unfed sourdough starter
  • 4 oz (112g) all purpose flour
  • 4 oz (120 ml) water, room temperature

Tools

  • 1 quart glass or plastic container 
  • Wooden spoon or spatula
  • Kitchen Scale

Instructions

  1. Weigh 4 oz of your unfed starter into a clean container. Discard the extra starter (see note)
  2. Add the flour and water and mix until combined. Set aside at room temperature.
  3. The starter is ready to use when it has doubled in volume and a small spoonful floats when dropped into a bowl of water. This generally takes 4-5 hours but the time can vary based on dough temperature and room temperature.
  4. If you do not plan to bake with the starter on the day it is fed, refrigerate 3-4 hours after feeding.
  5. Feed refrigerated starter weekly. If you go longer than a week without feeding, you may want to give the starter two feedings before using.

Notes

Check out these recipes that use sourdough discard if you don't want to throw it away.

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Did you make this project?

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sourdough starter on day 7 and 8
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How to Make Sourdough Starter with Less Flour
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Recipes that use Sourdough Discard

Debra J Rockstead

Saturday 13th of March 2021

my starter will now pass float test several hours after feeding. But right out of the refrigerator it never does becuase it has fallen. In your directions you state that you can use starter right out of the fridge if it is still active. I always feed it first, but do i have to. Am I doing something wrong if it falls in the regrigerator?

Eileen Gray

Saturday 13th of March 2021

No, it will rise and fall in the refrigerator. It goes through the same cycle, just a little slower than it would at room temperature. I find that if I feed my starter and refrigerate it after 2-3 hours it is active enough to bake with for a couple of days. After about 2-3 days I will feed it before baking. It's not an exact science and each starter will behave differently for a myriad of reasons.

Sharon

Friday 12th of March 2021

Hi! I made a new starter yesterday, I have looked at it several times today to see the bubbles are forming. My question is once I have a new starter how long do I need to wait before feedings? I’m really enjoying making sourdough bread and I can’t wait to try some of the recipes on this site. It has been out of the fridge for 24 hours. Any and all tips or creative criticism is welcome. I also store my starter in the fridge. Thank you, SKC

Eileen Gray

Saturday 13th of March 2021

Did you just begin the starter yesterday? As in, mix the flour and water? If you're getting bubbles on the first day that's pretty good. Visit my post about how to create a starter to see the process I use. I grow my starter over 8-10 days. This process gives the starter time to grow a good population of yeast. Even if you're seeing a few bubbles on the first day, the starter is not ready for baking yet. Once you've finished developing your starter then it should be fed about 1x per week if you keep it in the refrigerator.

Kate

Tuesday 2nd of March 2021

Hi! My starter never has enough for the recipe and to feed. And that’s after feeding it that morning! What am I doing wrong?

Kate

Wednesday 3rd of March 2021

@Eileen Gray, by volume. I know that’s not great but I maintained it this way and not feeding before using for months. Then I switched to feeling it before and after baking with it and it is now much less starter but still works. I’ll order a scale and start weighing!

Eileen Gray

Wednesday 3rd of March 2021

Are you feeding and measuring by weight or by volume? Do you mean you have less than 12oz of starter? If so, you can feed it without discarding to increase the amount of starter to what you need. You can see how I do this with a small starter, here.

Connie Uhyrek

Tuesday 2nd of March 2021

I really like your way of feeding sourdough, by weight rather than by measure. This way is much faster and turns out great. For years I have measured and starter is never consistent. I also found out the bottled water is better than treated city water.

Marlene Geils

Thursday 18th of February 2021

My start doesn't have the strong smell and taste of sourdough bread when I use it for making bread. Any suggestions on making it more tangy would be much appreciated.

Eileen Gray

Friday 19th of February 2021

How you feed and store you starter, and how you mix and ferment the dough can encourage different acids to grow. If you ferment your dough for a shorter time at warmer temperature you encourage more lactic acid. Lactic acid has more milky, yogurty flavor. A longer, cooler ferment will encourage more acetic acid to develop. Acetic acid has more of the vinegary tang. Also, keeping your starter at a lower hydration level encourages more acetic acid than lactic acid. Even if your starter is not particularly tangy, you can encourage that acetic acid by adding more flour to make a thicker starter and by letting the dough ferment for a longer time in the refrigerator.