Noob-My starter smells like nail polish remover.


Hi Folks,

So my starter is just over a week old-it's quite active and doubles in volume after a feed but it smells much like nail polish remover.  Is this normal?


265 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2012 September 14

Hi Helen,

If things are developing normally, your starter can go through a number of phases in the early days - including  the acetone smell.  Hopefully it will disappear after a couple of feeds as the beasties that produce it get out-competed and fade into insignificance.  I assume you are still in the discard most and feed up stage of development.  If not, I would try that - discard the majority of what you have and give it a big feed

If however the acetone smell persists for more than a few days of discard and feed, then I'm afraid you probably should start again.

Hang in there, it will come good in the end.


HelenF 2012 September 14

Hmmm, it has been like this for some time and yes, I've been discarding most daily.  Guess I'll give it a few more days.  Thanks for your response Farinam.

chel 2012 September 15

Hi Helen

My starter went through a stage of smelling like acetone around a week old. I dumped all but a tablespoon and refreshed with 100g flour and 100g still bottled water everytime it doubled. Sometimes twice a day and for a few days three times a day (temperature at the time was around 28). It may seem like a lot of flour going to waste at the time but it settles and its well worth it. I gave it a week and it all came good in the end. If it starts to smell vinegary don't worry it just needs refreshed. You could also split your starter and try increasing the hydration of one slightly maybe 110% and see if that helps the smell. Not sure what level of obsession you've reached yet!

Good luck

Chel x

HelenF 2012 September 15

I had split my starter a little while back and had been feeding two simultaneously. I figured I may as well just experiment with one and keep the other going as I had been.  So my latest feed I used 100% rye with one and this was 4 hours ago.  Normally I would see it very active by this point but not much has happened..I understand that it may go on strike and also that the little gluten in rye can mean that it's more difficult too see activity in the starter.  I've just fed my other with 1/3 rye and 2/3 spelt so we'll see what happens.  I have noticed some grey furry mould starting to grow on the sides of the container - should I switch containers next feed?  I've also been wondering whether I need to feed my starters more regularly than the instructions here as they would become quite active quite quickly (even escaping it's jar at one point) and then lie almost dormant for 12 hours waiting for the next scheduled daily feed.  I really appreciate the feedback-thanks.

chel 2012 September 15

Hi Again.

I've never done a 100% rye or used smelt and I'm pretty new to sourdough baking so one of the experience bakers will maybe offer better advice. I would change container next feed, try and take a spoon out without touching any edges to aviod contamination. Definately feed your starter more often if it needs it. The starter is an organic living thing and changes all the time, be guided but experiment. If I remember correctly, I think my culture started bubbling quickly, then slowed day 3 and 4. Then went mad for about a week doubling every 5 hours (that's when it smelt like nail varnish) then it settled down. I used a 30% rye and 70% white flour to get the culture going and with time have reduced the rye down to about 15%. But that's just personal taste, I don't like it too sour and have two young kids. Keep going for a couple of days and see what happens. If you can be bothered and have time start another cutlure just incase and keep them all going. If like me you'll be desperate to bake your first sourdough loaf and it takes about 2 weeks for the culture to be stable enough.


HelenF 2012 September 15

Well I started out using a white flour and rye combo but when I went back to the shop to buy more of what I was told was organic white bread flour I found out it wasn't organic at all and that's why I switched to spelt as I couldn't find white flour.  My poor starter has had a pretty crazy start in life so if it survives it will be testament to a starter's general resilience!

How do I prevent the mould from forming again?

I've started to notice a bit of action in the rye starter..


chel 2012 September 16

I'm not sure why mould forms sometimes or how to prevent it in the future, sorry Helen, hopefully someone else might help. Best of luck with it! Oh, your loaf looks tasty too, well done. Incase you want an easy recipe that fits in with babies, pets and husbands the one i use is really easy, its the Norwich sourdough at I use SourDom tourial for kneading and proving and you don't have to be too precious with timings as I've found out looking after 2 nippers and a dog who's had a stroke.

HelenF 2012 September 16

Thanks Chel, it is tastey and satisfying but stay tuned for improved loaves in the future and thanks for the link, I'll check it out.  Need to get myself some bannetons : )

HelenF 2012 September 17

Just thought I'd update incase someone else runs into the same issues and finds this thread.  My rye starter is kicking it - producing lovely breads and very lively.  Glad I persisted.  Still waiting for the spelt starter to get to a point that I'm able to bake with.


Post Reply

Already a member? Login