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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.

Print Recipe
4.93 from 198 reviews

How to Feed Sourdough Starter

Follow these steps to feed and maintain your Sourdough Starter.
Prep Time10 mins
Total Time10 mins
12 oz

Ingredients

  • 4 oz unfed sourdough starter
  • 4 oz all purpose flour
  • 4 oz water (room temperature)

Instructions

  • Weigh 4 oz of your unfed starter into a clean container. Discard the extra starter (see note)
    4 oz unfed sourdough starter
  • Add the flour and water and mix until combined. Set aside at room temperature.
    4 oz all purpose flour, 4 oz water
  • 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.
  • If you do not plan to bake with the starter on the day it is fed, refrigerate 3-4 hours after feeding.
  • Feed refrigerated starter weekly. If you go longer than a week without feeding, you may want to give the starter two feedings before using.

Equipment

1 quart glass or plastic container 
Kitchen Scale
Bread Making Tools

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Notes

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

Nutrition

Calories: 43kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 0.1g | Saturated Fat: 0.01g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.04g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.01g | Sodium: 1mg | Potassium: 10mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 0.03g | Calcium: 2mg | Iron: 0.4mg
Have you tried this recipe?Mention @eileen.bakingsense or tag #bakingsense!
Recipe Rating




Sydni

Wednesday 30th of November 2022

Very early Sunday morning, I fed my starter after using it in bread and left it out until Monday evening. I then popped it in the fridge overnight. Tuesday morning, I checked my starter and did a float test after taking it out of the fridge and it did not float. The current recipe I’m using states that if I want a more sour taste, I can use an unfed starter from the fridge…but as I said, it’s not floating. What should I do? Hoping for a more sour taste.

Eileen Gray

Wednesday 30th of November 2022

An older starter does have more of a sour taste, but it has less leavening activity. I also find that it's harder to get good gluten development with an unfed starter. Your best bet is to follow the recipe as long as it's from a reliable source. Is it a bread recipe?

Rosemary

Sunday 30th of October 2022

Great explanation and cant wait to start .

Stephen Searles

Monday 24th of October 2022

Is it necessary to transfer the starter to a clean vessel? I just wipe the vessel to make a roughly level "ring" about 1/2 above the starter level.

Eileen Gray

Monday 24th of October 2022

No, if you measure out 8 oz of starter and leave 4 oz in the container you can do it that way. I have a collection of plastic deli containers so will transfer to a clean container every so often. If you have a specific container for your starter you don't need to transfer.

Bill

Friday 21st of October 2022

I really like the simple manner in which the author relays the information. Very helpful

Eileen Gray

Saturday 22nd of October 2022

Thanks!

Maureen

Thursday 22nd of September 2022

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

I think there is a typo error with the water weight. Shouldn’t it be 112g if we are using the weighing scales?

Thank you for your recipes and the instructions!

From a sourdough baker in New Zealand!

Maureen

Cheryl Stevens

Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

@Eileen Gray, What if I used the wrong amount of water? Will it keep my dough from rising and being active? I weighed my water to the exact weight of my flour and starter (which was active before I fed, then after feeding it did not rise)

Eileen Gray

Thursday 22nd of September 2022

I give the weight in ml since I tend to use a measuring cup for the water. You can weigh the water and it would be 113.2 g.