Sourdough Starter Troubleshooting

When it comes to the livelihood of my starter babies, trust me, I’ve had my fair share of “omfg” moments . 9 out of 10 times it’s benign, and well, 10 out of 10 times I’m panicking.

For what it’s worth, #1 thing I’ve learned is that it usually looks worse than it is, and that the smell of the starter is a major indicator. I’ve put together a quick list of what’s worked for me + tips from the pros, check them out!

  • Use a jar with a wide mouth so it is easy to feed and clean
  • Plan ahead, some refrigerated starter can take a few feedings to activate
  • A healthy starter is fed often, try to feed it every two weeks
  • What does a healthy starter smell like?
    Sweet, yeasty, and slightly sour.
  • Why is the starter not bubbly? If you don’t see bubbles in 4-8 hours, it may need shorter feeding times and/or at a higher frequency. 
  • Why discard the starter? The old starter has little sugar and starch left and should be discarded before introducing new “food” to feed the yeast and bacteria. This will promote a healthy ecosystem in your starter jar.
  • You may find a stinky aroma from an unfed starter (I mean dirty socks or back alley), it could have gone bad from either a bacterial or mold infection, highly recommend throw it out and start over.
  • If you see a layer of dark fuzzy stuff on the surface, it is most likely mold. I have had success saving the starter by carefully removing ALL the mold without contaminating the undisrupted starter underneath. Refresh in a new vessel several times. 
  • Sour or astringent smelling liquid on top– this is the alcohol from fermentation, discard and refresh with a feeding.
  • “Oops I froze my starter!” No sweat, just thaw and refresh with a feeding or two.


Sourdough starters are stronger and more resilient than you think.

Just in a few days, you should have a lively levain ready for your next baking adventure!

Check out this post for a bit of history and how to build your own Sourdough Starter from scratch.


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