How to get a sourdough starter to rise

How To Get A Sourdough Starter To Rise – Step By Step Guide

How to get a sourdough starter to rise
Updated on
November 18, 2022
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

Despite best efforts, sometimes a sourdough starter just won’t rise. This sad truth has frustrated many sourdough baking beginners into giving up on sourdough altogether. If your starter is not rising, first, you are not alone. Even I have had this problem. And second, there’s an easy way to fix it! In this article, we are going to resolve the most common sourdough starter troubleshooting issues, so yours will be as fiery as those you see on Instagram. You will know what to do if you can’t understand why your starter doesn’t rise or is missing the big bubbles you desire.

A sourdough starter becomes sluggish when there are low levels of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria. It could also be supporting the growth of the wrong bacteria which can produce unusual and unpleasant smells! The way to fix a starter that doesn’t rise is to give it warmth and the right food.

Why is a sourdough starter sluggish?

Many bakers run into issues making a new sourdough or reviving an old one after it’s been in the fridge for a while. Before we look at ways to fix a starter that won’t rise, let’s break down why there is little levain activity and what makes a sourdough levain rise in the first place.

What makes sourdough active?

The ingredients in sourdough are flour and water. To make bread rise the mixture needs to develop lactic acids and wild yeasts. And to do this, the culture requires warmth. Acid bacteria and yeasts are absorbed from the environment or exist in flour and water. As the starter ages, their population increases, changing the environment’s acidity and alcohol content. This leads to different, more suitable species of yeast and acid bacteria taking hold. Only once the acidity of the starter drops below 4.2pH and rises regularly can the correct species populate so it is ready for use. The challenge is how to achieve this!

For the starter to be fully active, we need to give it plenty of fresh flour (food), water, warmth, and plenty of time. Anyone can produce an active levain with these four things. When one of them is missing, we start running into problems.

When should I start a new sourdough starter?

Do you have problems with your starter and think you need to start again? Unless it has signs of mould or a really rancid smell, I advise that you stick with it and follow these tips to bring it back to activity.

If you were to start again and follow the same process you did last time, expect the same results and another failure. An unripe starter will have some beneficial maturation, so you might as well work at improving it rather than starting over.

How to fix a starter that doesn’t rise

I fix a struggling starter by simply giving it a big feed and placing it in a warm place until it rises. This forces the yeast’s and bacteria’s enzymes to work harder and build a more active starter. The starter should rise in half a day, but you can repeat the large feeds until it does. Here’s how to do it:

Measure 20 grams of your sluggish starter into a bowl, add 150 grams of water and give it a mix. Pour in 120 grams of white bread flour and 30 grams of rye flour and stir until no lumps remain. Cover and leave in a warm place until the starter rises. When the starter peaks, repeat the feeding ratios again. Keep repeating until your starter rises within 8 hours.

This method produces a runny starter that has plenty of food to consume. This, combined with putting it in a warm place, means that the bacteria and enzymes work quickly. In doing so, organic bacteria and wild yeasts become more prevalent, and after a few days, a robust ecosystem of cultured yeasts and bacteria suited to the environment is produced.

Once the starter is active, go back to using equal quantities of flour, water and starter in further refreshments, or whatever ratio works best for you! 

There is an argument against this tactic!

Some bakers suggest that the good bacteria in the starter will dilute too much. I understand their views, yet in 20 grams, there will be plenty of “good stuff” to populate. If the yeasts and bacteria were stretched too thin, the starter would take a few extra days to become active, but it won’t die.

Factors that contribute to making a starter rise

I’ve just explained what I do to reinvigorate a weak starter, but how about maintaining it? Below I’ve explained the critical priorities in keeping a starter active and how to select the ingredients and environment to do just this.

1- Feed the starter when it peaks

When your starter has just been fed, the population of organic acid bacteria and yeasts are low. As the starter ferments, these products multiply until it is fed again. The perfect time to refresh (feed) a starter is when it is at its peak, as it contains the highest ratio of active organisms. Fortunately, it will stay at its peak for a couple of hours. During this time, fermentation slows, so the same amount of gas is produced as escapes. At its peak, the starter’s height remains the same, but bacteria continue to multiply. This is handy if you want to make sourdough bread more sour. Some sourdough bread recipes “take” their starter before it reaches its peak to make bread with. This method is used in the Tartine method as it produces a sweeter, less acidic levain that, despite being less active, produces an arguably superior tasting bread.

When a starter is left unfed past its peak, it collapses. This is largely due to the sugar supply running out and the bacteria and yeasts consuming the gluten protein instead. The weakened structure, which is now heavier due to the gas it retains, collapses. Although the leavening power can be strong, a collapsed starter doesn’t contain the ideal properties as a levain. If it happens occasionally, don’t worry!

What happens if my starter doesn’t rise?

Expect to see some bubbles after a few hours, but a new starter won’t rise. This makes it hard to know when to feed a new starter. I used to continue feeding it with fresh flour and water every 12 hours. But recently, I’ve found that leaving the starter for 36-48 hours before the refreshment works just as well. It should develop plenty of bubbles during this time, and after the second refreshment, you should see it starting to rise. At this point, aim to feed your starter when it is at its peak.

2- Increase the feeds to boost the sourdough starter

When using the popular 1:1:1 ratio of starter, water and flour for your refreshments, you will need to feed it multiple times a day once it becomes fully active, and who wants to do that? One way to prevent this is to increase the refreshments’ fresh flour and water ratio. This provides more food for the starter to consume. Therefore, it can be left for longer between feeds. A less viscous starter is also slower to rise. I use a ratio of 1:4:5 of starter, water and flour so that I don’t have to feed it as often.

3- Increase the temperature of the starter

Sourdough works best in warmer temperatures. A fermentation temperature between 25-35C (77-95F) is best. To find out how temperature will affect the flavour of your starter, view the best temperature for a sourdough starter post.

If the temperature falls below this range, the rate of fermentation activity will reduce. If you live in a cooler climate, it’s a good idea to warm it up. You can make a DIY proofer, or better still, get this one from Brod & Taylor. Your bread will benefit from it as well!

Brod and Taylor home proofer

View the best price here, or try Amazon

Daily feeds at room temperature are usually ok for sourdough fermentation, but for some extra oomph, keep it warm! I offer some top tips on warming a sourdough starter. A weak starter is not so resilient to cold conditions. The best starters are kept at a constant temperature, so again, a home proofer comes in handy!

You can also store a starter in the fridge once it becomes fully active, but not before. Refrigeration slows down activity, so you don’t need to feed it daily. This saves time and a lot of wasted flour. See my sourdough starter feeding routines for a recipe and feeding schedule that you can fit around a busy lifestyle.

NOTE: Keeping a starter in the fridge means its activity slows down. It's not ideal for storing an unripe starter (unless you are not around to feed it) as this will slow its climb to maturity. You can put it in there for a day or two if you will not be around to feed it, though.

4- Selecting the right flour for your starter

A starter is made from flour and water left to ferment

Good quality bread flour with a hint of rye is my preferred flour choice for sourdough. Flour with plenty of micro bacteria and minerals provides food for the wild yeasts and enzymes in the culture. Here is how to select the right flour for a sourdough starter:

Use bread flour in a sourdough starter

High gluten flour contains more proteins, ash and thus, minerals. This means that the enzymes in the starter have more to consume, thereby slowing the rate of fermentation and extending the time it takes to rise. This makes the starter more vibrant and actually increases its leavening properties.

Gluten takes a long time to break down in hydrolysis, making it especially helpful to use a high protein flour in a starter. A starter made from high-protein flour also improves the dough’s gluten structure.

Rye flour makes a more powerful levain!

Trading 5-20% of white flour for rye flour will rocket-power a sourdough starter! Complex starches in rye or whole grains slow the fermentation rate as they are harder to break down. Like high gluten flour, the additional flora found in rye provides more food for the starter. Rye flour is a boast of controlled energy for a starter– A game-changer for many sourdough bakers!!

In terms of flavour and rise, there are always improvements with the inclusion of rye flour. It has always helped my starters! If you can’t get rye flour, a mix of whole wheat flour alongside white flour is almost as good, especially if the flour is organic or stoneground!

Use stoneground flour

Most modern flour is roller milled. It can make a better starter if you find flour milled using the traditional stone grinding method. Stoneground flour contains more bran and germ than roller milled. This means it’s packed full of the necessary nutrients for your starter.

Switch to organic flour for the best starter

Flour is filled with proteins, starches, fibre and bacteria. Organic flour contains the same amount as non-organic flour. The benefit of using organic flour is that mill uses weaker cleaning agents. During a fantastic presentation at Bakerpedia, Dr Lyn stated that the gentler cleaning materials in organic flour production leave more bacteria in the flour. The extra flora increases fermentation activity to produce a more active levain.

The impact of changing the flour – IMPORTANT!!

Changing the type of flour will upset the ecosystem of your starter. A new flour introduces different ratios of sugars and bacteria than the previous. The starter has to produce different enzymes or a different enzyme balance to break down the new flour. Initially, activity will worsen, but as the starter learns to cope with its new food source, the ecosystem becomes balanced and good things will happen! After 3-4 days of regular feedings, the starter’s ecosystem will be returned to balance. The necessary enzymes will develop, and the new flour can be consumed efficiently.

Temporary weakening in activity can even occur for a new packet of the same type of flour. If you choose to switch the flour after reading the previous points (or have to when you run out), just expect it to take 3-4 days until you can use it. You can also split a starter into two if you want to try a new grain before committing to it. If you run out of flour, use what you have. It’s better to feed it something than to let it starve.

5- Change the water

Should I use bottled water to feed my sourdough starter

Many bakers ask, “Does changing the water help a sourdough starter rise?” The last thing to consider changing is to swap tap water for bottled water. There is rarely a need to change water to make decent bread. As long as it is drinkable, it is safe to use. However, there are a few cases where you should consider bottled water:

Too much chlorine

Sometimes the amount of chlorine in your tap water is very high, killing off the sourdough starter’s bacteria. I can’t say it has ever happened to me, but it can. To fix this, leave the water on the counter for 30 minutes for the chlorine can evaporate before using it. A water filter can also fix the problem in certain areas.

The local water is soft

Similar to increasing the minerals and flora by switching flour, the water’s hardness can affect the rate of gas production. Soft water has fewer minerals which means the rate of fermentation accelerates at first. Yet, the starter will have a shorter rise and be inevitably weaker.

Hard water is preferred for bread making, but the difference is often negligible. The hardness of the water is unlikely to be the cause of a poor-performing starter.

If you think the quality of your tap water is causing your sourdough starter to not rise, try bottled water to see if it makes a difference.

6- Keep things clean!!

Dirty equipment is bad for a healthy starter

Sourdough is created by the multiplication of acid bacteria and fungus (yeast), which undergo fermentation. Introducing the wrong bacteria is not helpful for a healthy starter. Flour provides enough bacteria to make sourdough. Dirty hands and equipment will introduce new, unnecessary bacteria, which unsettle the balance of the starter.

Any foreign bacteria will be broken down by starters enzymes, but it changes the ecosystem, much like switching the flour. This diverts energy away from consuming flour which makes the starter less effective.

You may have been told to use dirty hands or jars with crusty starter stuck to the edges. The theory is to incorporate more bacteria into your ecosystem, but this is not the bacteria you want! Keep everything as clean as you can.

7- Give it more time

A baked sourdough bread

Have you given your starter enough time? Sometimes it takes longer to develop, so repeat daily feeds for at least 14 days before making another tweak.

How long does it take for a new sourdough starter?

If you are making a new starter and you don’t see bubbles after a few days, it doesn’t mean to say that nothing will ever happen. A starter can be ready as soon as 5 days, but most bakers wait three to four weeks until using one.

My starter won’t pass the float test!!?

The float test is not accurate!

The float test is not accurate or necessary, so I don’t recommend that you use it. The best way to tell if a sourdough starter is strong enough to raise bread is to watch it after it is fed. It is mature once it doubles (at least) in 6-10 hours and smells pleasantly aromatic. Further reading: why does my starter sink?

Conclusion – Have these tips fixed your starter?

There has not been much scientific testing on the production of sourdough. This is why there are many varying ways to make sourdough bread. Bakery scientists simply don’t know all the answers! But there are a few myths that I hope we have discredited, and you now know the best way to get a starter to rise! Let me know if these sourdough starter troubleshooting tips have worked for you by dropping a comment below! Need more help? Just ask away down there too!

My starter doubles in size at first but then showed no sign of life. Is it dead?
Initially, the starter is sucking up wild yeasts from its environment, making your starter rise in the first couple of days. After 2-3 days, organic acid bacteria outnumber the yeast cells, inhibiting the yeast’s ability to produce gas. After a week, different yeast and bacteria strains appear, and your starter will rise and fall better than before.
I see bubbles, but it is barely rising between feedings. What should I do?
Bubbles are always a good sign! Keep feeding and keep it in a warm place, and it will soon come good in a few days.
Should I use ionised water to make sourdough?
Using ionised water is not recommended for sourdough production. The process removes minerals to make the water more alkaline. Sourdough is acidic and will score around 4-5 on the ph scale. Adding more alkaline and removing minerals is the complete opposite of what a sourdough starter needs to thrive.
Is distilled water better for sourdough starters?
Distilled water should not be used in sourdough production. It is more acidic than tap water, so it is sometimes considered a better choice for feeding sourdough starters. However, distilled water is only 0.5 pH more acidic than tap water. A sourdough starter will drop to around 4.2ph, so using slightly more acidic water has minimal benefit. Besides, in the creation of distilled water, minerals alongside the impurities are removed, which are essential for sourdough bacteria to multiply. Without minerals, the starter will be weak and slow to rise.
Can I refrigerate my starter if I bake weekly?
Yes! Once you’ve got a healthy starter, it can sit in the fridge for a week or two without being fed. To increase its vibrancy, I prefer to feed it for a couple of days before using it for bread. See my how to keep a starter post for more!
Do I have to use my starter at peak activity?
Once a starter reaches its peak, it will sit there for a little while. The lactic bacteria will increase during this time, turning the starter into a more powerful levain. The starter doesn’t have to be used at this point, but it makes it more effective.
Why is my sourdough bread dense?
This can be because of a weak starter, under proofing, not enough gluten development or the wrong amount of water used. These prevent enough gas from being retained, making sourdough bread dense.
Why is my starter showing no sign of activity after several days?
This could be many things. Go to step one of this guide and repeat. You know you’re on the right track when you start seeing bubbles on the surface!
Did I kill my sourdough starter?
It’s very hard to kill a sourdough starter, so probably not unless you’ve baked it. Keep feeding it, and expect to see signs of activity after a few days! Further reading: Is my starter dead?
My kitchen is very cold. What can I do?
Find a warmer spot than your kitchen’s room temperature to keep it. This could be an oven with a light on, near a radiator or a proofing box.
Do I have to discard my starter?
Discard is the process of removing a portion of the old starter and throwing it away. If you don’t do this, the starter will get bigger and bigger. So by discarding a portion of your starter, you will be able to keep the same feeding ratio and waste less flour. You can use up your discard in these sourdough discard recipes.
What is the dark liquid at the top of my starter?
This is the hooch! It’s just where the starter produces too much alcohol. You can just stir it in! To prevent hooch increase the amount of flour used in your feeding routine or feed it more often.
How to get rid of fruit flies in a sourdough starter?
If it’s just one or two, you can remove them, refresh your starter and put it in a better place. If it’s infested, then you will have to throw it away! Consider sealing the container more tightly next time.
Can I use yeast in my starter?
Sourdough creates gas because of organic acid bacteria and yeast cultivated in the starter. Organic acid bacteria release gas as it ferments to produce acetic acid. You can add some yeast to the starter, but you will not have the full benefits of sourdough without the development of acids.
What is a 100% hydration starter?
100% refers to the amount of an ingredient used against the weight of the flour. So a 100% hydration starter contains the same amount of flour and water. This is calculated on weight, not cups and spoons!
How do I scale my starter up or down?
It’s best to feed a starter with the same ratio of ingredients for consistency. To double the amount of starter, double the amount of old starter, water and flour when feeding. To make other amounts, just work to the exact ratio you usually do but increase or decrease the sizes.
How can I keep my sourdough starter if I go on vacation?
A healthy starter can keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. They can often last much longer than this! You will likely need to feed it with fresh flour a few times before using it to make bread. If you plan to leave your starter for longer, you can dry it out! Use one of these methods for drying a starter.
How tight do I have the lid on my starter jar?
Flour contains plenty of wild yeasts and bacteria for a starter to ferment, so it doesn’t need to suck them in from the environment. However, a new starter will require some oxygen so the yeast can respire. Sourdough also produces gas which can turn the environment into a vacuum, or worst, explode your container! Keep the lid of your jar loosely sealed to allow some airflow.
Sourdough starter smells like vomit?
It is common for vomit smells to appear in a new sourdough starter. After 14 days of regular refreshments, these smells will disappear, and you’ll have an excellent, active starter that can raise bread.
Sourdough starter smells like sour milk?
Sourdough utilises organic acid bacteria to undergo Lacto fermentation and produce lactic acid. This is the same process that sours milk and makes cheese and yoghurt. The smell of sour milk is typical in a young starter. After regular feedings, the unwanted acid bacteria will be lost, and an authentic sourdough smell will appear.
What do I do if my sourdough starter smells like cheese?
This is due to lactic bacteria multiplication which is part of the sourdough fermentation process. It occurs as organic bacteria produce lactic acid. Cheese undergoes a similar process, and the smell is just a sign that the sourdough is young and needs to be fed for longer.

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Comments (52)

  • This is so helpful! I am in keto and trying to do a Lupin flour starter without success. There is only one on YT and I just can’t get her recipe to work. Going to try your tips. Thanks!

  • Thank you so much. This has been extremely helpful. I have found so many do’s and don’ts ….yours seems to be the most helpful of all the things I have read so far. I have had my sourdough starter for roughly 2 years that a friend passed to me from hers. I have kept it going until recently. I refrigerated it for a period of about a month(longer than any time before) and now I’m having a bit of trouble getting it active again. Gonna try the suggestions and believing it will help.

  • I am new to this, and an trying to get my starter to rise!

    I have just added my water (filter) bread flour and rye flour to 20g of original starter. My question is, do I discard some every day, or keep adding the original sluggish starter?

    I know, I’m thick!

    • It’s probably me! Discard 2 twice a day so you start with the same amount of old starter at each refreshment (20 grams).
      I’ll make it more clear! Let me know how it goes

  • This seems very helpful..ive been struggling to make my starter active like how it used to. The starter used to double or triple in size between 3/4 hours but seems very slow recently. I dont know what is wrong, and im very sad about it. Please give me some advice and couragement as i think im almosy give up. Btw, my starter is 2 months old..

    • You are not alone, lot’s of people encounter the same issue. Sometimes starters peak and then drop off a bit after a month or so. The secret is to be consistent! Same flour, same feed size, feed at the same time and keep it warm! It’s science, it has to work! You’ll get there!

  • I had a sluggish starter and tried the boost you suggested. It rose right up beautifully! However, after doing the boost feed 3 times total, I went back to a 1:1:1 ratio with unbleached flour and warm filter water, and it doesn’t seem to rise at all. Maybe a little bit. Any suggestions? I’ve been doing 2x day feedings.

    • Try meeting it in the middle with 1:2:2 – starter:water:flour ratio. Keep repeating with the same type of flour (a little rye will help) and water twice a day, you’ll get there!

  • Hello!

    Thanks for the tips.

    I am making mine with rye, first time ever trying. On the third day and no signs of bubbles and no smell. It is very thick also. Using a 50/50 ratio when feeding.

    Is it just time it needs?

    I live in the UK and temp is currently mild.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Yes, rye has lots of complex minerals and takes a while to get going. It’s also been a little cooler which will slow it down. Fortunately, looking at the forecast it’s going to warm up over the weekend. (Typical Brits talking about the weather!!)

      Keep feeding it, it’ll come good. Increasing the water when feeding so it’s a little wetter will speed it up, but not essential.

  • This is my first experience with sourdough. My starter was active for the first 2 days, then went flat. That’s when I came across
    I followed your suggested proportions of 5:1:1. For 3 days, there was hardly any action. Then on the 4th day, the starter rose about 2cm. I continued with 12 hourly feeds. Finally, the starter doubled, smelled like young wine with lots of bubbles on the surface. It floated!
    Thank you Gareth!

  • Trying to get a new starter off the ground. I’m on day 5 and activity is weak, sometimes a little better right after a feed but quickly dies down. My house is cool and I started out with bleached flour, but have been changing over to unbleached. Is it going to work? Would warm water (rather than room temp) give a boost?

    • Hi Eric! I’ve not tried it myself, but if you’ve got some activity then yes, it seems to be working! Warm water (100-110F) would help, although it’s best to find a warmer spot to keep it. It will activate in a warmer climate, but it will take longer to get there. This article might be helpful: how to warm a sourdough starter

      Let me know how it goes.

  • Thank you very much for your advice! I was struggling to activate a new starter that just wasn’t coming to life as I expected it to (I’ve worked with sourdough in the past, but this time around it wasn’t looking good). I followed your instructions for overfeeding with bread flour and rye for a few days and now I think I have a nicely active starter. I haven’t seen it dome as much, but it has doubled a few times already. The weather here has been both hot and cold over the past few weeks, but I put my starter on top of the fridge to keep them warm.

  • I have just started making sour dough bread starter. The first two loaves were by no means perfect but edible. I’ve looked at so many videos and spent a ton on supplies.I decided to try one more time and the starter has not risen on day 3. I came by your channel quite by accident and I bet gonna have a beautiful starter in a few days just by following your precise and easy to understandable directions. Thank you x10.

  • I have a three-year-old starter that will not rise. It is very active; lots of bubbles while feeding and throughout the day. The sides are nice and spongy when I look through the glass. I usually feed every other day with a 1:2:1 ratio (I’m in Denver so I need that extra water), and it seems to have a good appetite. I use filtered water and bread flour with a weekly boost of rye. But it will not rise. About a week ago I upped feedings to twice a day and stuck it in front of the heater vent (nicely warm, not hot). It bubbles like crazy; smells wonderful; but it will not rise. On the other hand, it makes nicely risen bread. So, is the rising of the starter really all that important as long as it is truly active? And, do you have any suggestions?

    • This is a very unusual case that I’ve not come across before as if there are bubbles the starter should rise. But, I mean, if it makes good bread it’s not a massive issue!! Adding rye once a week will not help as much as if you were to include a portion of rye flour with the bread flour when you feed it. A starter likes consistency to build its cultured ecosystem so that it can rise effectively.

      I use a 60% white flour to 40% rye flour ratio when I feed mine, but you can adjust to your own taste.

      Let me know how you get on!

  • I don’t have ready access to rye flour, I’ve been using whole wheat flour, I am considering using some bread flour that I do have access to.

    I also have a bit of semolina available.

    Initially I had a really good rise but after the second feeding it had a layer of hooch on it. I increased the flour to water ratio, I am still getting bubbles but it is not rising…

    I think I’m on the right track… I’ve been using a mix of all purpose flour and wheat flour 3:1 ratio I have upped the ratio to 2:2 all purpose to whole wheat but still just bubbles no rise

  • I am having trouble with my starter. I started a little over two weeks ago and the started was doubling nicely for about a week. The weather grew colder so I decided to leave my starter in the oven with the light on and it only grew 20%. Any advice on what i should do? I’m worried i killed it!

    • Don’t worry! You won’t kill it unless you bake it or it turns mouldy. If you are getting a 20% rise, there is definitely a bit of life in there! A new starter will go up and down in activity as the yeasts and bacteria change they have to produce different enzymes which are used to break down starch into sugars. This can produce a lag and usually means a starter has a burst at the start and then dips in activity a few days later.
      Keep feeding it regularly, maybe use warmer water to boost the temperature a little (the oven with the light on trick is great, but not always that warm) and ensure there are plenty of minerals in the flour. Splitting the flour for a white and rye flour combination will help here.
      Keep going, you’ll get there in another week or two!

  • I’m trying to figure out why my starter won’t rise but has bubbles. I let my last starter go when I moved last year & I’ve just started again, I’m on day 17. I am doing everything exactly the same as I did successfully the first time. It seemed to be doing well the first few days but now it doesn’t rise at all. My formula is, 25gms starter, 50 gms organic unbleached white & 50 gms organic dark rye,100 gms 85 degree water every 24 hours. I’m going to try feeding it every 12 hours starting today & see if that makes a difference. The warmest room is my kitchen with its wood stove. It’s usually 70 but can go up to 80. Although it’s could be a little less then 70 when I damp it down for the night. Anyway, I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s the water. I’m using my reverse osmosis drinking water. The tap has undesirable metals so I don’t cook with it or drink it. Reverse osmosis removes everything, I’m sure it’s removed the minerals. Do you think that’s the reason it’s not rising? I sure could use some help figuring this out. Thanks

    • Hi, Heidi!
      Yeah, I would switch to bottled water, at least until you’ve brought the starter back to activity again. I’ve heard of some bakers having success with reverse osmosis water, but the odds are stacked against you as like you say, there are no minerals in it. Ratios look good, the more it can stay at 80 degrees, the quicker it’ll get going. Hopefully, you’ll have success in a few days!

  • Hi! My starter is 2 weeks old, and even tho it has a lot of bubbles on the top, it’s not rising at all. On the third day, it almost doubled in size, but it never happened again. Hooch appeared on the beginning of the second week so i started feeding it twice a day (2:1:1). It smells like yoghurt (sometimes like alcohol). Am I doing anything wrong? Why is it so weak?

    • Hi Iara, you will see bubbles in the first few days as yeast cells appear first. As the starter becomes more acidic the yeast is less effective and it can take a few days for the lactic acid bacteria to populate enough to produce gas. The strains of yeast that can cope with the acidic, alcoholic environment also take a while to become prevalent. It doesn’t sound like you are doing anything wrong so well done you! Keep feeding it whenever it peaks, try and warm it up to around 30C and it should come good in a few more days. A new starter can often take 3-4 weeks to mature.

  • Hi! I’m on day 7 of my starter. On day 3, my starter tripled and was so bubbly. I didn’t have time to make any bread. I’ve been feeding it twice a day and no activity except a couple of bubbles on the top since then. I’ve been feeding it with 2tbsp starter and 50gm water and 50gm organic bread flour. It’s in a warm spot. From all that I’ve read, resources have said to only use a little discard with each new feed and use the same proportion of water and flour. Any suggestions or tips on how I can speed up my starter? I’m dying to make bread!

    • It’s perfectly normal for the starter to become bubbly on day 3 and then dip in activity. The reason for this is the starter initially cultivates strains of yeast that are not capable of serving when it becomes more acidic and alcoholic. Keep doing what you are doing, it might need another week or two. I wouldn’t use it yet as if its pH has not dropped below 4.3 it can be harbouring bacteria that can make you ill. You are not doing anything wrong, just keep going! Switching a bit of the bread flour for rye flour will help, but isn’t essential.

  • Hello,
    Thank you for the tips. I really enjoyed reading everything but my brain doesn’t work like it used to and all the “stuff” add just confuses me and makes me lose my train of though and I have to back track a lot. Is there a way to print just your tips so I can read and make notes?

    Thanks so much,


    • Sure it’s not just you! I’m in the process of updating all the articles on the site to make them easier to digest! In the mean time, I suggest you copy and paste just the bits you want into notepad or word and print them from their. Thanks

  • Hello.

    How do I know when to feed it? After 24 hours it has not doubled, has a few bubbles and is difficult to stir. Should I just keep feeding it anyways after 24 hrs or should I wait until it has more time? I am so tired of this starter. I have been trying a few months and just can’t get it. I just found your page and hope it helps.

    • Ahhh, I speak to a lot of people that struggle to get started. The most common issue is that their kitchen is too cold. How warm is your starter kept, roughly? If it’s a new or unripe starter, feed it every 24 hours. Once it starts to rise and fall, try to feed when at its peak, or just before.

    • Start with 1-1-1. When it starts peaking too regularly (like every 4-6 hours), increase the ratio of the starter. The 5:4:1 ratio is to bring a dormant, or semi-dormant starter back to life. Use it if you’ve tried 1-1-1 for a couple of weeks and not got anywhere.

  • Hi, I have a new two week old starter that I feed twice a day on a 1:1:1 feeding schedule (using 113g filtered water, starter, and 50/50 bread flour and wheat flour). I moved it to the oven with the light on and it started rising to almost double the amount but now it rises less. I tried the float test when it was close to doubled but that didn’t work. When I feed it, it has a smooth consistency with a fair amount of bubbles. Is it possible I missed the peak, how long should it take to peak again? Should I continue the same feeding schedule?

    • Hi Jackie, the 1:1:1 ratio can be a bit runny for some people. I prefer a stiffer starter so tend to use 1 part starter to 1 part water and 2 parts flour, but it’s up to you how you want to continue. There’s no “right way”. The higher you increase the ratio of fresh flour to old starter, the longer it will take to peak. This is because it has more food to digest. It’s common for new starters to go up and down in activity in the first few weeks. Try and keep it warm in your oven with the light on and check it in the morning, early evening and before you go to bed. If you miss it peaking once or twice, just feed again, it’ll be fine. A warm active starter fed 1:1:1 will peak in around 6 hours, at 1:1:2 it’s around 9-10.

  • How about disappearing sourdough starter?? Used a recipe that called for 25g of rye flour and 25g if water for 4 days running. Did that and after 4 days very little sign – a few little bubbles but definitely not doubled in size (probably 5-10% max at a guess) . Persevered and on day 5 added another 10g of flour and 10g of water, making 220g overall. The recipe required a 200g starter. This appeared to work as in the late afternoon it was bubbling away nice and had easily doubled by the evening. Great I thought! Next morning (day 6) I noticed it had deflated back down again. There were a few tiny bubbles showing but not like the previous evening. Thought I’d go ahead anyway. Poured my starter (very runny) into my mixing bowl BUT (here’s the kicker) only measured 160g ???? How on earth can I “lose” 60g of starter?? By yhe way I was using organic white (not wholemeal) rye flour.

    • It’s not you Jim! I found the same when I deducted 100 grams from my starter each day when refreshing (instead of weighing what I actually had!). I was puzzled why it got progressively smaller and wetter each day!
      The breaking down of starch into pyruvates, which then produce carbon dioxide and water leads to them being released from the dough and into the air. I assume this is the cause of the weight loss.

  • Many thanks Gareth! I persevered and added another 25g of each on day 6 ie total now back up to 210g, then waited 3 – 4 hours to see it start to increase. Quickly scooped out 200g (I wasn’t waiting overnight this time!) and proceeded to make my two loaves (200g starter + 900g strong white flour). Left overnight in fridge in 2 banneton baskets. Next day they appeared to have risen although only slightly and worse still when I removed from the baskets they both spread out and were almost flat as a pancake!! Baked them anyway and as if by magic they both successfully rose (a wonder to behold!). The moral I think here is not to despair or give up as believe me I nearly did!

    • That’s great, I think many would have given up! If I were you I’d keep feeding that starter and it’ll be much more vibrant in a couple of weeks. Enjoy your bread!

  • Hi – I changed the flour when feeding my first ever starter – and it slowed down a lot. Thank you for explaining why! It’s now in a cool bag in the airing cupboard having had a good feed with the aim of keeping the flour in the starter consistent.

    If I want to bake using different flours do I need lots of different starters? Or can, say, a 50/50 white bread flour and wholemeal bread starter be used making bread with any flour?

    Thank you.

    • Great! For best results ideally yes, although it’s not practical for home baking. If you are making dough that contains some of the same flour that’s in your starter, it should work ok.
      For best results, keep a Motherdough starter and divide a portion off to refresh with the different flours a week before you use it to make bread with it.

  • Hello Gareth.I spend weeks of doing starter. Always failed. This time I decided to keep going.
    After 6 days my starter was still flat, not rising , kind of liquid and smells like acid. Awful. I started with 1:1 rye and water, for 3 days then I switched to bread flour and still nothing. I come across your blog and used big feed. The starter rise beautiful. More than double. The question is what next? Should I go back to normal feed 1:1 using bread flour? Or should I do big feed again? . 20 g (discarding the rest 300g) starter ,150 g flour and 150 g water.Could you give me some tip please. Thank you for making my starter alive

    • That’s great! You can do any feeding ratio. If you do larger feeds (i.e. use less starter), the starter will take longer to rise and you won’t need to refresh it as often. A thicker starter will take longer to use also. I prefer larger feeds, but it’s up to you!

  • Gareth,
    Thank you ever so much for your article. if I am reading this correctly, because I started using my home milled flour this has had an impact on the starter’s enzyme balance. I fed the starter today using your recommended ratio of 20g starter, 120g milled soft white wheat berries and 30g (store bought) light rye flour. Placed it in a sunny window. Zip for rise but there are bubbles. My plan is place in oven with light on overnight and feed again in the morning, continuing to feed over the next few days hoping to see a rise sooner than later. I ordered the Brod & Taylor folding proofer that you recommended. The temperatures in my home are on the cooler side averaging 70 degrees. Also, since, I do not plan to purchase store bought flours and only continue to use home milled flours this hurtle with my starter must be resolved. Do you have anything to add? am I on the right track? Any and all help or encouragement is greatly appreciated.

    • You’re doing everything correctly! Keep at it and it should be perfect. If you don’t see progress in a couple of weeks let me know and we’ll do a bit of troubleshooting together.

  • I have a starter that was gifted to me by my daughter in law back in May, successfully transported it home and it was thriving. Then I went on a trip for just over 2 weeks and left it in the fridge while gone. I am now having issues getting it to peak in the 3-6 hours after a feed. This has been going on for the last 3 weeks. She definitely more than doubles, so I have good yeast development (or so I think). Good example is I fed her 1:1:1 today at 12:30, and she was just above the 200 ml mark on the jar I keep her in. By 7:30 (7hrs later) she had barely made it to the 400 ml mark, but the puzzling part is between 7:30-8:40 she gain almost another 100 ml. She has nice bubbles and smells great and has the right consistency, but is sluggish to double/peak. What do I need to do. She is in the same spot throughout all that time, so temperature should be consistent and would be on the slightly cool side of the optimal range (73*F)

    • Hi Corinna, I’ve definetly been in your situation!
      Firstly, the accelerated rise near the end is normal. Yeats and LAB activity multiplies as the starter continues to rise, it’s probably just more noticable as it took ages to get to that point!

      You’ll hear loads of conflicting solutions to this, but here’s what I would do:
      1 – Transfer to a clean starter jar. This will remove any unwanted bacteria that may be slowing things down.
      2 – Continue feeding, being really careful to feed when it’s at its peak. Don’t let it peak and collapse before feeding if you can help it.
      3 – Try to keep it at 73 degrees, slightly warmer if possible but 73 is going to be fine.
      4 – If you notice no improvments after 3-4 days, perhaps your flour is old? Or you’ve changed flour? If so try another bag

      Can you let me know how this works for you?

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