8 Reasons Why Sourdough Bread is Not Rising

Have you ever made sourdough bread and it doesn’t rise? You know – that sinking feeling you get, when your bread can’t sink as it’s not risen! What is wrong with me? Why can’t I make a good loaf of sourdough bread like my friends seem to be able to do so easily? Well after reading this, you will know why your sourdough bread is not rising, and how to fix it. Here’s the short answer:

If your starter is fully active then the reason your sourdough bread didn’t rise is most likely down to not giving it enough time. Give your sourdough at least 4 hours to bulk ferment, plus a further 3-4 for its second rise before baking.

But if this doesn’t answer your question or you’ve tried and it still doesn’t rise, I’ve got you sorted, as always. There are only 8 reasons why bread doesn’t rise or doesn’t rise much so let’s discuss them in detail. Here are the common reasons your bread didn’t rise

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#1 The levain is inactive

The reason your sourdough bread didn’t rise could be due to your starter not being ripe. When you first parent a sourdough starter you will want to get baking as soon as you see bubbles! This is often fine but it won’t be as active as one that has been carefully looked after for many years.

Aside from being too young, there are other suggestions to consider. Although these won’t prevent the bread from rising completely, they will lower its activity which can slow things down and make you give up. Reasons include:

The starter was fed a new flour and it didn’t rise

Flour introduces bacteria to a starters ecosystem. Changing the flour to say spelt, or rye will improve the organic activity in the starter, but the starter is likely to deteriorate initially.

See, the bacteria change upsets the balance of the starter. Some enzymes may initially be in too high quantities, others too low. Expect it to take at least 3 days to adjust to a new type or even brand of flour.

Starter wasn’t fed recently and has little activity

If the starter repeatedly reaches its peak and collapses before it’s fed, it’s going to be less effective. Depending on how long and how regularly the starter is left, it will likely need to be regularly refreshed for a couple of days to revive it. If it’s days since it peaked you’ll struggle to make a decent loaf, if it’s a matter of a couple of hours you’ll probably be ok.

Starter was taken straight from the fridge and the bread didn’t rise

Keeping a starter in the fridge is a great way to slow down its activity to an almost dormant state. But asking something that’s asleep to suddenly fire on all cylinders and raise bread can be too much of an ask. Bread can be made from a starter that’s been left in the fridge, just expect it to take a little bit longer.

#2 It’s too cold!

Bacteria prefer being warm. The ideal temperature band of bacteria and enzymes in bread dough ranges between 25C and 37C (77-98F). There are arguments for proofing at higher or lower regions of this band which can be found in my bread proofing temperature post.

Some of you will be tempted to use a fridge rise in your sourdough production. Incorporating a fridge first or second rise is a great way to manipulate flavour and for your personal baking schedule to be more sociable. Using the fridge for sourdough is fine, but the dough should spend some time above 25C (77F).

If your starter is weak, and the temperature is cold, expect very little rising activity.

Cool temperatures lead to less activity

A proofing sourdough that’s below 25C (77F) will rise a lot slower than it ought to. When it drops to the sub 15C (59F) region the chance of the sourdough not rising at all, or at least barely rising, increases. If this is your issue, you need to warm up your dough.

Place it in a warm spot, or better still, use a proofer.

Use a proofer to control temperature

Having your own controllable “warm spot” could sound like a far-distant dream, but owning a home proofing box is possible these days. Thanks to Brod & Taylor for making their affordable home proofer, it’s a fantastic tool to make baking bread at home so much easier:

#3 Warm water killed the yeast

Mix starter with water that’s over 68C (155F) and it’ll damage the bacteria inside. You won’t necessarily kill the starter, but you can lower its effectiveness. If the dough’s proofing temperature is above 40C, expect it to rise, but at a slower rate.

#4 Too much salt was added

Salt slows down the activity of the yeasts by trapping its water supply through osmosis. Adding too much salt will slow fermentation, but for salt to be the contributor to preventing a sourdough loaf from rising at all, it is highly unlikely. There would have to be so much added, the bread would be unpalatable anyway.

#5 Too much sugar!

Like salt, sugar diverts water from the yeast to soak it up itself. This slows the yeast’s ability to respire and prevents the dough from rising. If you want to sweeten your sourdough loaf you should:

  • Increase the amount of starter used.
  • Add the sugar later on in the development stage (near the end of mixing or midway through bulk fermentation).
  • Switch to a liquid form of sugar so that it can be incorporated easily when added later on.

#6 There was too much fat in the dough

Adding fat and sugar to the dough weakens the gluten structure making it harder to trap air. It’s not going to be the sole cause of a sourdough bread not rising but will be a contributor.

Again, the amount of fat added would have to be considerable for it to really ruin the dough’s ability to rise. Over 25% of the flour weight at least!

#7 Your water isn’t suitable for making sourdough

This can sound like a bad workman who blames his tools when things go wrong. Most of the time, the water isn’t causing an issue, but there are exceptions.

In some areas, tap water will prevent activity in your sourdough. If your water is heavily chlorinated or you use a reverse osmosis water filter, you need to take extra steps to make bread.

Using heavily chlorinated water for bread

If your tap water has a lot of chlorine in, fill a jug of water and leave it to sit on the counter for 10 minutes before measuring. This will allow the chlorine to evaporate so you can use it to make bread. You might also find joy in using a water filter, but I am unable to find scientific proof for this.

Using a reverse osmosis water filter to make bread

A reverse osmosis filter removes the bad bacteria from the water alongside the good stuff. This decreases the activity of the water therefore adding the salts back in is a good way to recover from this. That said, it’s not perfect and you will most likely find that buying bottled water is the only route.

Should I use a water filter if I have hard water?

If you live in a hard water area then you have the perfect water for making bread. The extra minerals that exist in hard water provide food and activity to bacteria in the starter.

Buxton infamously homes many of the top breweries in the UK as it has very hard water! Bread made with hard water will rise faster than soft water areas so no, you shouldn’t use a water filter for making sourdough bread.

Note, if your starter uses the same water as the bread and rises, your problem isn’t the water.

#8 The dough became hard during final proofing

If you leave dough uncovered it is probably going to dry out. Moisture leaves the crust area of the bread and forms a skin. If the skin gets really dry, it’ll get so thick and heavy it’ll prevent the dough from rising. Expect to see some big rips as the oven spring explodes the crust as it bakes.

So why did your bread not rise?

Let me know in the comments why you think your bread didn’t rise. Are there any reasons that you can think of that are preventing your bread from rising? I’d love to hear how you fixed your sourdough not rising problem!

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33 Comments

  1. Hi, trying to make sourdough bread, made our own starter which seemed to have plenty of bubbles and action after feeding it, the water we used came through a very efficient filter which removes virtually everything…we used the same water for the bread mix as it seemed fine…anyway the mix started to rise but never seemed to get any further, could this be because of the water we used….any help would be appreciated….regards Steve

  2. Hi Steve, It could be, but if the starter is rising then it wouldn’t expect that the water is preventing it from rising. How active is your starter, is it doubling, or better still, tripling within 6 hours? How old is it?

  3. Gareth, Great website-Thanks!
    My starter smelled and tasted like sourdough. It floated. I added 2 cups starter to my bread recipe. Why did my dough not rise? I see comments about the starter doubling and tripling in volumn, but mine never does. Thanks for your help. Karol

  4. Thank you Karol! It’s a tough one without seeing the dough. What temperature is your starter kept at and how often do you feed it?

    Was there no rise at all in the bread?

  5. this is the first time my dough did not rise at all. I fed my starter and waited 2 hours and it was bubbling… I used the water that I normally used, from the same source as the day before when I made 3 loafs of bread…. the only difference was in one loaf I used some fresh garlic in my dough and the other loaf I used some cinnamon in the dough. I worked the dough as normal and left for the 4 hour rise and came back to NO rise at all. I just worked with folding again and will leave it covered outside, this time, and see what happens. I am so disappointed. Well… lets see what happens.

  6. Hi! That’s a tough one, I can see why you’re baffled! It could be due to the garlic and cinnamon. Both are known to inhibit the leavening power of sourdough. You are better off roasting garlic and adding it to the dough midway through the first rise. With cinnamon, put a maximum of 1 tsp per 350 grams of flour in the dough. It still might slow things down.

    I’d remove a small piece of dough without either inclusion to check on progress next time. This way you’ll be able to eliminate them from being the cause.

  7. Thank you for this guide! I am still having trouble getting my dough to rise during bulk fermentation (waiting as long as 20 hours) despite the following, as mapped to your 8 points:

    1. Having active levain – it’s 7 days old and has consistently risen 2-3x within 6-9 hours, ever since day 4
    2. Being in a ~27-30C environment
    3. Using room temperature, bottled (RO) water
    4. Using only 1 tsp salt to 250g flour
    5-7. Not using any sugar/fat; using RO water
    8. Protecting the dough with both a slick of olive oil + a silicone bowl cover

    Have got absolutely no clue what I should even be fixing in my next attempt!

  8. Sounds like you are doing everything right however, the starter at 7 days might not be as powerful as it needs to be. Keep feeding it for another week and try again, and repeat. You should notice the smell improving and the size of the bubbles increase a little. After this, your starter should be much stronger and you won’t need to wait 20 hours!

    This article might also be useful: https://www.busbysbakery.com/best-time-to-use-a-sourdough-starter/

  9. Ive been making bread for a year and none of the recipes i tried gave me the fluffy texture i wanted. I used the potato flake starter this time with high hopes to still get dense heavy bread.looks pretty and tastes ok but is dense and chewy.also used ki g arthir organic flour.

  10. Fluffy bread really benefits from fat and some lecithin which can be found in vegetable oil, eggs and soy flour. I’ve not heard of a potato flake starter! Sounds fun, but not sure if it will make it fluffier – let me know! Feel free to email me if you want any more help.

  11. Howdy, Gareth. I have enjoyed all the suggestions and comments. My sourdough French bread isn’t rising as much as I’ld like and the baguettes slump while rising vs a round cylindrical shape. I had problems with my initial starter failing until switching to non-chlorinated bottled spring water, no RO. (NOTE: My municipal water is treated with chloramines, that are MUCH more stable than chlorine, does not dissipate at room temperature but may be removed by boiling for up to 60 mins).

    I’ve experimented with more flour, but still no luck. I use 1-1/2 c starter, 2 tsp salt per 585 gm bread flour 1 cup water and zero fat zero sugar.

    The longer the shaped-dough rises, the more it slumps.

    Would more salt or less flour help? It rises at 80-89 F. Would cooler temps be better?

    THANKS!

  12. 1/4-1/2 teaspoon extra salt may help yes, keep the flour as is. It could be that you need to work on your shaping. How firm is the dough? Are you using a couche to proof them? How long are you proofing them?

  13. My recipe implies i can proof the loaves without a couche or bread pan and Im still not satisfied with the consistency. The dough is slightly sticky which is why I had tried adding 1/4 to 1/2 c flour but the finished loaves are more dense. Is it possible to over-kneed? I use a mixer with a dough hook to kneed the dough for 15-20 minutes with the original flour/water ratios. Most of the stickiness is gone and it has a somewhat satiny finish that passes the window pane test. But still have difficulty getting good rise and round shape. I recently added 1 tsp of commercial yeast as a last gasp effort to have loaves to share with guests with an improved shape but I’d really rather not take that step.

  14. Yeah, I’d agree that there is too much kneading going on. Sourdough bread needs time to ferment (minimum of 3 hours at that temperature). During a long first rise not only do the organic acids build up to mature the dough, but the gluten structure also continues to develop. Too much development will lead to the structure collapsing.
    It’s never a good idea to reach pass the windowpane test at the end of mixing. It’s best to part-develop the gluten and let it naturally develop as the bacteria and yeasts ferment the dough. You should be looking to pass the windowpane test at the end of the first rise, ready for shaping. This means the dough is at its optimum point to retain CO2.

    I’d suggest mixing for 3-4 minutes, either by hand or in a mixer and leaving the dough in the fridge overnight. Leave out for 2-3 hours until there’s some gas developing and the gluten is reaching the windowpane stage, and then shape, rise and bake when ready.

    This should stop your dough from being sticky too as the water will have time to be soaked up in the flour. You’ll need to have a fairly dry dough if there is no couche or baguette tray to support them as they will spread outwards otherwise. If the dough is still sticky at the end of the first rise, use less water next time.

  15. I’m at wits end. For the past 8 months I’ve been successfully making sourdough every week, using the method that, after shaping, rests the shaped loaves in bannetons, in the fridge overnight and baking the next morning. For the last two bakes, however, the loaves are just so flat. Not doing anything different except we are now moving into Spring here in Australia and my kitchen is now around 20ºC where it was around 14ºC before. Oh, and I have a new batch of organic, unbleached bakers flour that I’m using (same brand as I always use, just a new bag).

  16. That sucks. Let’s try and sort it out. How are you storing your starter and how often are you feeding it?

  17. I leave approx 20 grams in a jar. And feed it 50g water and 50grams rye flour. Leave it on the bench to double and get bubbly then into the fridge til I make bread the following week. I bring the starter out of the fridge in the morning to come to room temp and feed it that night 50g each of rye foodie and water and let it do it’s thing overnight. I mark the jar with a rubber band so I can confirm the activity. And then use it to make up the dough.

  18. OK, sounds like it needs some regular attention to wake it back up. The new flour and the spending the majority of time in the fridge have slowed bacteria growth. I would keep it out of the fridge, ideally somewhere warm and complete regular discard and feedings when it peaks which should be twice a day. Once you’ve done this for 3-4 days and it is peaking in 5-6 hours you can store it in the fridge again, basically treat it like a new starter again.
    A 100% rye starter is a bit more challenging to maintain. Most people do 50:50 rye and white flour, of 25 rye and 75 white. I’m not saying that 100% rye can’t be done, I had one for years, it just needs a bit more care.

  19. Okay. I’ll try that. Still can’t quite get why it’s started to fail when this routine has been working well for nearly a year. Thank you for giving me your ear. I’ll check back soon and let you know how it went.

  20. Hi there! I’ve been using a sandwich sourdough recipe and we’ve loved it! Had so much success with it, made it several times and it was heaven. Then all of a sudden, I could not get the dough to rise. No matter how long it sat. My starter is super bubbly and active. It literally triples in size and passes the float test in the water. It’s colder now, so I make sure that my home is nice and toasty when I make it. I just don’t understand why I had so much success at the beginning (I made the recipe at least 10+ times with no problem at all) to now wasting so much flour because it never turns out….. ‍♀️

  21. It’s a tough one, you have to think about what could have changed between then and now. Temperature, type of flour, humidity etc. As you say it’s colder where you are now, there are a few things to consider:

    – How long does it take for your starter to rise now? Maybe it isn’t as powerful as it was before?
    To fix: place it somewhere warm and keep feeding it when it rises, which should be at least twice a day.

    – The room is still too cold.
    To fix: use warmer water and get/create a proofing box to proof your dough.

    Further reading: How to Warm a Sourdough Starter, How to Proof Bread Without a Proofer – DIY Proofing Solutions!, Desired Dough Temperature – How To Calculate and Reach it
    Hope this helps, let me know how you get on!

  22. I’ve had my starter for 10 years. I feed it and leave on the counter the morning before I start my bread. At 7 pm I start the bread. The starter is super fluffy and floats. I’ve only had a few times where the dough actually doubles by morning and its so exciting when it does. We keep our house at 70 degrees. Is THAT the culprit? It rises quickly in the oven at 500 but is very dense because it hasn’t fully risen. How can I heat up it’s rising space without heating up the entire house?

  23. The majority of the CO2 gas being produced in the sourdough is from the yeast, not the bacteria, correct? I think there are both homofermentative and heterofermentative bacteria in sourdough, but the majority of the gas that causes rise will be from saccharomyces, correct? I’m not a bread expert, but know a lot about mixed fermentation from brewing mixed cultures beer, and that is the case with beer, and these mixed cultures are close to the same and eating the same food, correct?

  24. No, there’s more CO2 produced through heterofermentative reactions. Strains of Saccharomyces are often found in sourdough but there are several other yeasts in sourdough. The combination of yeast and heterofermentative reactions produce CO2 whilst the dough receives many benefits from the organic acids and ethanol produced.

  25. Hi Gareth, it’s my understanding that the bulk of the gas producing cultures in sourdough are saccharomyces yeast strains (which are heterofermentative, and therefore have CO2 as a byproduct), primarily consisting of sacc exiguous, cerevisiae, K. exiguus and K. humilis; and that the bacteria are mostly homofermentative lactic producing strains, with a small amount of acetic acid producing strains as well.

    I only asked because your post indicated that it was bacteria producing the gas, and I believe it’s mostly yeast contributing to that, while the bacteria produce the sourness.

  26. There is generally a ratio of LAB to yeasts of 100:1 which is why there is so much gas produced by it. Yeast of course does produce gas but the acidity of the starter levels off the amount of yeast that can populate. I could probably word this better, but I can’t think today! Hopefully, you understand what I’m trying to get across John! Anyway, click the link to Bakerpedia’s article which explains a bit more on the science and some of the species of yeast produced. They also have a seminar on sourdough which is great!

  27. Hi Gareth, this is my first time making sourdough bread and my dough is not rising at over 3 hours of proofing. I fed the starter for 3 weeks (bread flour, whole wheat flour and bottled water equally). The starter doubled in size for almost 2 weeks and I saw bubbles at the top but never on the sides. I always fed it just when I noticed it was starting to deflate from the peak (not sliding down the jar yet). This always seemed to happen at hour 10 or 11 after the last feeding. I’ve read so many comments about starters tripling in size after 4 to 6 hours. I live in a warm climate so the temperature in the house is always about 25C. When first fed, the starter is sweet smelling and turns to a vinegar smell as it peaks. I’m not sure if my starter wasn’t ready though it did float during the float test. Did I use too much salt in the dough? 400g bread flour, 230g water, 160g starter and 10g salt. Appreciate any advice you can give me. Barb

  28. If it’s taking 10-11 hours for your starter to peak, it’ll take about the same for your bread to double in size also. Just be patient, it’ll rise eventually. The salt amount is perfect.

    If the starter is a little vinegary it could benefit from another week of regular refreshments, feeding before it starts to drop and you could also add some rye flour when feeding, but I wouldn’t give up on the one you’re making right now. Not sure about your time zone, but if it’s getting late just cover it and pop it in the fridge overnight.

  29. Hi there!

    When I’ve been making my dough everything seems to go ok up until it goes into the banneton to proof. The bulk ferment seems fine. It rises nicely. Then it goes into the banneton and into the fridge overnight and doesn’t rise at all. So today I tried to prove it in a prover, nice and warm and humid and it’s barely risen after 5 hours. The dough looked really good and well structured and tight. Any suggestions? At my wits end lol.

  30. Hi Aleks, it could be a couple of things or a combination of them. I’d start with the second and third options below and if that doesn’t work, try the first one:

    1) How much are you rising in bulk fermentation? Maybe you are exhausting the sugars during the first rise. You could use more starter in your recipe and reduce the length of the first rise.
    2) You might need to be a little more patient. Sourdough in the fridge doesn’t rise much at all. A lot of bakers will proof for 2-4 hours before it goes in the fridge until it reaches 3/4 proof height. Others do it the other way round and proof it on the counter or a proofer after the fridge. It’s a bit harder to warm up and activate cold dough than it is to cool an active one.
    3) This one might sound unnecessarily complicated, but it’s worth considering. If you use a different temperature for proofing your sourdough to the one the starter is kept at, some Lactic acid bacteria and yeasts won’t be as active while others will -but they take a few days to populate. If you will proof the sourdough in the proofer it might be worth storing and feeding your starter in the proofer for a few days before you make your next loaf.

    * Or it could just be that your starter needs to mature a little more. Rye flour will definitely help if you are not already using it?

  31. Hi Gareth,
    My starter is around two years old, and it’s been getting stronger as time goes on. We moved from the UK to Singapore, and I dried it to bring along. I successfully revived it, and it doubled in size after the final feeding. After that, it would only rise a quarter of the way, in a cupboard that is at a steady 28C (feeding it 1:1:1). I thought it might be the chlorinated tap water, so I started again with fresh dried starter, and only used bottled water. But the starter is still only rising a quarter of the way, after at least 9 hours (and really bubbly, and passes the float test). It doesn’t look like it’s sunken after all that time.

    Any ideas what is going on? Back in London, I only used tap water and the starter would double/triple in at least 5 hours.

    Thanks.

  32. It’s just getting adjusted to its new environment, new water, humidity, temperature etc. There might be some loss in activity as it has been dried as perhaps it becomes more pH neutral (I’m thinking out loud with this point, I’ll have to do some research).

    It should come good if you keep feeding it regularly in the cupboard for a week or two. I’d stick to the bottled water to start with, just to rule that out.

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