Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter

I always maintain my sourdough starter at 100% hydration. That simply means that for every gram of flour I add, I also add a gram of water. This means that my starter is always a consistent level of hydration. If you want happy starter, easy math, and consistent recipes, this approach keeps everything nice and simple.

In general, it is a good idea to keep an eye on your starter jar regularly. I check mine daily, but don’t always do anything with it based on what I see. There are a couple things to look out for that indicate doing something is needed.

Please head over to the Sourdough Equipment page to learn more about the things used with sourdough. I won’t reiterate them here because that would be silly.

General Maintenance Process

I expect that most people have lives that do not revolve around their sourdough and that they don’t have enough time to make things with sourdough regularly. For that exact reason, I keep my sourdough in the refrigerator to keep it happy and lazy. If you make sourdough things basically daily or run your own bakery then you should probably keep your starter on the counter instead, but I will assume the refrigerator approach here.

Rule 1: Every few days you should remove 100g of starter from your jar and replace it with 50g of flour and 50g of water.

Rule 2: If you make a recipe that calls for some amount of sourdough starter, once you are done using it, you should feed your starter with that same amount to bring it back to the size it was before you used it. Simply divide the amount the recipe used in half and add back that amount of flour and that amount of water. For example, a recipe that used 200g of starter should be fed afterwards with 100g of flour and 100g of water.

Rule 3: If you are discarding 100g of starter to feed it, consider finding a recipe that requires 100g of starter and use the discard in that instead. On this site, most bread recipes use 200g of starter, but almost all other recipes use 100g (or about that) to make using your discard as easy as possible.

Indications That You Need to do Something

If your starter has expanded to the point where it’s nearing the top of the jar, or if you think it has expanded quickly enough that by the time you get back to it to check it again it will have overflowed, then it’s time to stir it.

  1. Open the lid of the jar with your starter.
  2. Stir the starter vigorously. It will likely wrap itself around what you are stirring with in the process. Simply scrape anything stuck to the stirrer off on the top edge of the jar so it drops back into the starter.

If your starter has started to have a little bit of yellowish liquid then you haven’t fed it recently enough and it is telling you that it is hungry and it is time to feed it.

  1. Stir the small amount of liquid back into the starter.
  2. Remove 100g of starter and either discard it or use it in something.
  3. Add back into the starter 50g of flour and 50g of water.
  4. Stir again to incorporate the new food.

If you have a lot of yellowish liquid on the top of your starter then you are accidentally neglecting it and starving it. It’s trying to tell you that it is desperate for food.

  1. Pour off the liquid that has accumulated on the top. You can either pour this by tilting the jar or gently spooning it off. Either way, discard it. You don’t need to get all of it, but getting most of it is important.
  2. Stir any small amount of liquid remaining back into the starter.
  3. Remove 100g of starter and either discard it or use it in something.
  4. Add back into the starter 50g of flour and 50g of water.
  5. Stir again to incorporate the new food.

If your jar has overflowed, which happens to everyone from time to time, don’t put the starter that went down the outside back into the jar. I always use an overflowed starter jar as a reason to move the starter to a clean jar, but if you aren’t doing that, here are some tips.

  • When cleaning the outside of the jar, close the lid on the starter jar.
  • Clean the outside of the jar using ONLY water. Accidentally getting soap into your starter will ruin it.
  • Try not to get extra water from your clean up efforts into the starter because it will mess up the hydration.

If your jar of starter is getting excessively crusty or it has accidentally overflowed, it is a good idea to move it to a clean jar. This is why I suggest buying 2 identical jars to house your starter in.

If you have a second jar:

  1. Move the starter from the current jar into the second clean jar.
  2. Put the starter back in the refrigerator.
  3. Clean your crusty jar so it can be used to swap back to at some point in the future.

If you don’t have a second jar:

  1. Move your starter into a clean bowl.
  2. Cover the bowl with a towel or paper towel to keep stuff out.
  3. Clean your crusty jar and dry it completely.
  4. Move the starter from the bowl back into the clean jar.
  5. Put the starter back into the refrigerator.

That’s really it. Keep your sourdough happy, and it will in turn keep you happy in the form of delicious breads and other baked goods.

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