Starter Has Gone Still


Hi there,


I'm on day five on my starter - last night was the first day that emptied out most of the starter and refreshed it with more water and flour.  Apparently my starter doesn't like it because it hasn't really bubbled up much, increased in volume, etc.  It does smell rather stinky - in a good way - so I'm happy with that.  I guess I just keep going, removing most of the starter, refreshing, etc?  


I was also wondering if someone could explain to me why you take out most of the starter just to feed it more again?  I'm working with the sourdough starter that's on the home page and this is my first attempt at sourdough bread.  Is it just to make sure your starter doesn't overlow?


Any help / insight would be greatly appreciated.

165 users have voted.


Alie0Bronwynn 2010 January 29

Hi there,


Ok, so I've only been making sourdough for a few years, but I'm haunting and giving advice where I can because when I was just new there was SO MUCH that I didn't know that no one seemed to talk about and I had to learn on my own, which was rough.  So, trying to pass along what I've learned - or, what I specifically have found works for me.


Here's my blog, I go into some detail about starters and some other info I've learned that is useful.


So, your starter.  Well, it takes a while for the yeast to get really strong/healthy.  One of the ways to make your starter strong is too empty most of it out and refresh.  Your starter needs to "eat" flour and water.  If there is a lot of yeast and only a little flour and water, you are esentially starving the yeast that is there.  But when you empty out most of it, feed it, then the yeast "eats" the flour and water - usually doubling in size and getting a frothy top and a lot of nice bubbles throughout.  To keep your starter healthy, you have to keep emptying and feeding it. 


That being said, I went through two different starter recipes that NEVER got strong before I found my current starter that is great - really strong.  My first starter (out of a easy baking book) was made with packaged yeast.  I accidentally killed it by putting it in a "warm" place (the oven was over 100 degrees, that kills the yeast.  ooops!).  The second starter was just flour and water - that's the old school best & traditional starter.  But I could never really get mine to bubble up and really rise.  My current starter had an intial bit of pinapple juice and just water and flour since.  It's been great.


Good luck!!!

1knitchick 2010 January 29

Thanks for your response Alie!


I just read your blog and now I'm wondering if I'm doing another thing wrong.  My starter is in a glass jar with a glass lid on it.  I should probably take that off and replace with a paper towel or plastic wrap then?  Although, I'm obsessing over my starter and uncovering it almost every hour (I'm so bad, I took it to work because it's warmer than my house).  I'm just wondering if it will dry out if I use a paper towel, did you have issues with that?


I now understand about the feeding, you need to add more flour / water so the little yeasty microbes can have new food to munch on.  There you go, simple and it makes sense.







Alie0Bronwynn 2010 January 29

I have my full lid - but ALWAYS have a hole poked into it!  Yeast needs to breathe too.  There's also yeast in the air, so that helps make your stuff stronger.  I generally use a mason jar - you can buy them for the cheapest at places like Cost Plus or hardware stores (well, at least my local hardware store had them).  (something like this )


My starter would get a hard sort of "top" when I only had a paper towel, but on the whole I never had an issue with the papertowel.  I'm throwing out most of it anyway - so I would throw the harder top away too.  I prefer the lid to the papertowel and if there are little fruit flies in the house I have to do both.


Another thing to note is that the best temprature to have yeast rise at (from what I know) is 70 - 80 degrees F.  So, yeah, if your house is really cold you definitely should take it into work!

Feel free to bug me with any questions - I never had anyone to ask and it made learning such a longer process...


Adam T's picture
Adam T 2010 January 29

What I like to do is build up my starter for a week. Then take half and put it in the fridge. Then continue on feeding the remaining starter for another week before using. The starter in the fridge will go dormant, and if you run out of your other starter, you can take some of it out of the fridge and start another! Just remember to feed it about once every week/ 2 weeks, while it is in the fridge. When I feed my fridge starter, I leave it out for 24 hours after a feeding, then put it back in the fridge. It will double in volume every time.


Hope that helps!





Alie0Bronwynn 2010 January 30

That's really interesting.  How often are you baking bread?  Does your "always outside" starter ever go bad?  How long does it "last" outside the fridge without feeding?  What is your feeding recipe?


:-)  I love learning about different processes!


One book I read mentioned not to leave the starter out of the fridge after feeding... the way to think about it (so I deduced from the book) was that cold slows the yeast down - so if you leave your starter out right after a feeding, the yeast eat all of the flour and water in that 24 hours and then when you put it in the fridge it's just to slow down it's "degrading" process of getting old.  They said to put the starter in the fridge ASAP so that the yeast will eat the flour and water - but it will take a lot longer for the starter to be fully "ready" and thus keeping it fresher longer.  A lot of other books said to leave it out for the 24 hours, but I've been doing the immediate fridge thing and it seems to be working as described.  Thoughts?

dimitry1 2010 January 31

I started a starter that is just watter and flour, up to date  it is so active that I cant keep up with it. One of the things I learned is that you might want to try to use spring water if you are using regular tap. I also make water kefir, and I learned that if I use tap watter all my keffir bacteria dies, if I use spring water it doubles in size in 36 hours.


So water quality is important.


If you would like to you can come to my blog and sighn up as a follower and I will send you some of my starter that you can use.

1knitchick 2010 January 31

Thank you all for your advise.  I don't know exactly what is going on but my starter isn't doing a whole heck of a lot.  It's still stinky and it's kind of bubbly but not that much.  I'm almost wondering if it's too cold here.  I'm outside of Los Angeles and it's only been in the 60's.  I have taken my starter to work where it sits near my space heater but when I get home at night it sits in an environment of about 65 or so degrees.  I switched my top out to cheesecloth so maybe that will help things perculate?  Maybe I'm expecting too much too soon?


Dimitry1, thank you so much for your kind offer.  I think if I can't get my starter going I'll take you up on your offer.  Hopefully my starter will wake up and be happy soon.




LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 31

I see you are outside of LA.  I'm north of you a little bit.  Lets see what you have been doing and get this starter moving along.

How often do you feed it?

How much to you throw away before each feeding?

How much water and flour do you add when you feed it?

What does it smell like?

I didn't notice but what kind of flour and water are you using?

Just so you know there normally is a period where the starter has very little activity when it is first being made.  You are right the cool weather is slowing your starter down but it will be fine.  It is just going to take longer.

rossnroller 2010 February 1


LeadDog is a more-than-worthy mentor, and I have no intention of butting in here, except to add reassurance that he is 100% correct in his comments on the cool temperatures.

I was cursing the winter when I began my starter, and it took me a couple of months and some day-on-day coaching from Graham (founder of this site) to get off and running, but once I did it was fine. There is no need to put your starter on any sort of external heating source. The ambient temp in my house was below 60F on occasions. In fact, I believe the cold temperatures might have even been a benefit, ensuring that only the healthiest wild yeast thingos survived (no scientific basis to this claim - just my story, but I like it!). Come summer, it was climbing the walls (of its container, that is!).

I can highly recommend the starter instructions on this site. I followed them to the letter, and ended up with a very lively little pet in 12-14 days or so. Using 30% ORGANIC WHOLE-GRAIN RYE with unbleached AP flour made all the difference to mine, also. I suspect using inferior grade fine-milled rye held mine back initially. 

Over to LeadDog.


Charlotte 2016 December 14

Hi Ross,

I am a newbee at this sourdough starter thing.  Reading your blog and hoping you can give me some much needed advise.  I live in Montana, so am concerned about temp but after reading your blog I am thinking that I just need to be more patient.  My question for now is, as I am having trouble getting activity - now day 5 at average 65 degrees) I am wondering if it is my flour.  I am using 50% sprouted rye and 50% unbleached white.  Is sprouted rye ok?

Thank you.  Charlotte

farinam's picture
farinam 2016 December 20

Hello Charlotte,

I don't think Ross hangs around here any more.  It has been a while since you posted so. hopefully, everything has come good for you.  It is unlikely to be your flour that is at fault in that pretty much everything carries the necessary yeasts and bacteria though they are in higher concentrations on the external parts of the grain and that is why wholemeal flours are generally better, at least for getting a starter going.  However it is generally recommended that you continue to use at least some wholegrain just to keep the vigour of the culture up through its life.

So, your mix should be OK.  I am not aware that sprouting is in any way deleterious but if you are still having trouble perhaps you could try substituting some wholemeal rye flour for part of your current recipe.

Good luck with your projects.


1knitchick 2010 February 1



Thank you for your help.  Here's what I have been doing for my starter:


I feed it once a day, when I get home from work in the early evening.  I don't really know how much I'm taking out but it's about roughly 1/4 cup that I'm leaving in the jar.  I am feeding the starter with 30g whole grain, organic, dark rye flour from Bob's Red Mill, 70g King Arthur white all purpose flour, and 100g filtered water.  I just measure everything out and dump it in, no special mixing techniques or what have you.  The smell is good, like it's fermenting but not in a bad way.  Today I have kept the starter in my oven with the light on just to see if that has made a difference and it hasn't.  I am suppose to feed it tonight but I haven't yet, probably will in an hour or two.


Thanks again,




LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 February 1


From the sounds of things you are doing things just right.  I forgot to suggest that maybe placing the starter on top of your fridge or freezer would be a nice warm spot.  Heat rises and the fridge or freezer is a little bit warm on the top due to the motor.  Place your hand up there and check it out.

With starters under most conditions you can follow a set of rules and not even know what is going on with the bacteria and yeast.  Since yours is cold and everything has slowed down.  The smell is a very good indicator that it is on the right track.  I would normally suggest feeding twice a day since when the temperature is warmer yeast can eat up all the food in 8 to 12 hours.  What you are feeding the yeast is a very good food source and you say filtered water I assume it has no chlorine in it?  The starter you are making is referred to as 100% hydration, equal parts of water and flour.  I have never had a 100% hydration starter double on me since the bubbles rise to the surface and escape to the air.

How much to take out?  Really if the jar has just the remains left in it after you dump it out it would be enough to keep the starter going.  Since you are just guessing try to save about 10% to 25%.

When ever you are ready to try something look around here for things to make with the discarded starter.  Sourdough pancakes are easy to make and are a good first test run.

Ross you can but in any time you want.  I still feel like a rookie.

1knitchick 2010 February 2

Hi LeadDog,


Yep, my water goes through one of those Brita filters so there is no chlorine involved.  And I have moved the starter from the space heater here at work to the oven with the light on.  It's nice and comfy in there without it getting too hot.  Plus, people were beginning to wonder about me, bringing my starter to work and all. 


So then on Saturday I will hit the two week point of my starter and I was originally planning on making a loaf of bread.  But I'm thinking that It probably would be best to make the pancakes first to see how they turn out first.  I know this sounds silly but what am I looking for if the type of starter that I am making doesn't really bubble up all pretty?  Do I just go by smell at that point?  


Thank you for all of your help with this.  I'm such a novice when it comes to starters but it's something that I really want to get down.



LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 February 2

 Maybe Ross would be best to give you suggestions since he built his starter when it was cold.  I'll give you some ideas.  Pancakes just seem like a good first test to me and lots of people like them.  Sourdough pancakes have a great flavor to them and are an indication you are on the right track.  What is really the best test is to see what the starter will do when flour and water are added to it just like you were going to make bread.  The dough you make should rise to double its original size and be full of air holes.  I would do something like put 15 grams of your starter in with 100 grams of flour and 65 grams of water.  This should give you a dough that is around 67% hydration overall which is a very normal hydration for bread.  Mix the starter, flour and water together and work it until it makes a nice dough.  I just place mine in a small plastic container with a lid.  I don't mark the container to see if the dough has doubled.  If the dough ferments you will know it is working right because the dough will be soft and full of air.  When you touch it the dough will most likely collapse in on its self.  That is what a starter that is ready to use will do.  You can take that test dough and add it to more water, flour, and salt to make some bread.

LittleMonkeyMojo 2010 February 4

Are you feeding by measure or by mass?  Also, what are you feeding it and how much?

I had "iffy" results till I switch from measure to mass, everything I do with baking.  I had been feeding my starter with 1x cups of water and 1x cups of flour.  I eventually switched to using milk and flour rather than water and flour.  When I say "1x cups" I mean if you had half a cup of starter I would have added half a cup of water and half a cup of flour.

When I switched to mass, I weighed everything.  If I had 200g of starter I would add 200g of milk and 200g of flour.  This was when my starter really came to life.

If you add things up you'll see that after the feeding I mentioned above, I'd have 600g of starter.  If I didn't use any of the starter, the next feeding time I would have to add 600g milk and 600g flour.  This would leave me with 1.8kg of starter.  If I'm doing a 1kg loaf I might be using around 250g of starter, so unless I'm doing several loaves a day, the amount of starter I have can become more than I'll ever use.  This is why you throw out some every once in a while.

If you're still making bread by measure I would suggest you switch to mass and you'll find your results become much more consistant.  It also helps to convert your recipes to baker's percentages, this will allow you to easily multiply or divide any recipe based on your needs.


1knitchick 2010 February 4

Well it must have been hibernating last week because last night when I went to refresh there were all sorts of bubbly goodness.  I don't know if it's because it's sitting in the oven with the light on, or if it just woke up?  I don't care, my starter is happy so I'm happy!

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 February 4

 Glad to hear the starter is working.  Here is a picture of my starter when it is about ready to use.  My starter is a 50% hydration so it is very different than yours.

Starter Bubbles

dimitry1 2010 February 5

That's a good looking starter, I use 100% and 150% hydration, what would be the main difference if I use 50% hydreation?

LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 February 5

 The big difference is that the starter is firm and not like a soup.  The other difference is the lower hydration favors a more sour flavor.  The bugs also don't need to be feed as often.  The 50% hydration isn't for everyone it just fits my style of sourdough.

dimitry1 2010 February 5

Thank you LeadDog, I heard about the concept that lower hydration makes a more sour flovor, but since I like it more mild I think I'll stick to the 100%, although I do like my rye breads a little more on a sour side and I use a 150% hydration rye starter, next bake I'll probably change that to 100% and see how it turns out.



Occabeka 2010 February 6

Hi LeadDog,


I am a bit confused here. According to the "Yeast - A Treatise", it is mentioned that a higher hydration promotes yeast fermentative adaptation, as water is a necessary component of the process.


"All other factors being equal, yeast adaptation is perceptibly promoted by a plentiful supply of moisture, e.g., in slack sponges and dilute preferments. Since water serves as the indispensable medium in which the metabolic processes of yeast take place, its relative abundance significantly accelerates the rate at which these processes occur. Stiff sponges and highly concentrated preferments are usually marked by delays in full yeast adaptation."


Going by that argument, one would expect a higher hydration dough to produce a more sour flavour in the bread, and for the sourness to be attained more quickly too.




LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 February 6

 Occabeka the sour comes from Lactic acid bacteria, LAB.  There are two divisions of LAB one bacteria make lactic acid and the other makes acetic acid.  Lactic acid is mild and acetic acid is strong.  The LAB that makes acetic acid likes lower hydration.

1knitchick 2010 February 9

Well Saturday was the day.  I got up bright and early and followed the instructions line by line.  All was well until I tried to get the dough from the proving bowl to the peel.  I floured the bowl with rye flour but I didn't use enough apparently and the dough stuck.  The bread totally deflated when I tried to get it out of the bowl,  but it did rise some in the oven.  The taste overall was good, had a nice tang to it, and there were lots of bubbles on the inside. 


So if the same situation happens again, where the dough deflates on it's way to the oven, can it go back into the proving bowl to regain some shape or once it's deflated that's it?


I hope to have some time in a couple of weeks to make another loaf - hopefully I'll have better luck with the moving of the dough to the peel stage.

LittleMonkeyMojo 2010 February 10

Is your proofing bowl just a regular bowl, or a benneton, also known as a brotform, brotformen, willow baskets, cane baskets or coil baskets (something like this:


If using a benneton I would recommend rice flour like dimitry has.  Apparently when rice is ground to flour the results are more like tiny round ball bearings and there's less of a chance the dough will stick to it.


If using a regular bowl, like a mixing bowl, I'd recommend you like the basket with a towel, like a linen tea towel, or a couche (  Then sprinkle (generously) the towel with rice flour.  Seems most bakers tend to not wash their couche, just shake it out well every once in a while and NEVER use it for another purpose.

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