Sourdough Starter Maintenance – How to keep a healthy starter

After you’ve built an awesome strong sourdough starter, you need to keep it alive. You need to make sure it can grow to double, or even triple the size. That way it will be in great shape to help you bake awesome, delicious sourdough bread. Learn all my secrets to easy sourdough starter maintenance.

If you haven’t built a starter yet, you can go read my guide on how to do just that. It’s not really difficult, all you need is flour, water and patience.

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When you’ve built a wonderful and active starter, you may even have given it a name, you want to keep it healthy and in the best condition.

The information in this article is also contained in this video, if you prefer that format:

How do I fit all-day baking into my busy life?

Your sourdough starter maintenance is going to depend on how you live your life and your baking schedule. Fitting sourdough bread baking into a busy life can be a difficult task.

There’s something meditative about baking sourdough bread. I love the quiet work of nursing the dough, stretching and folding it, and shaping it, but I have a full-time job, so I can’t usually bake on a weekday.

Feeding a sourdough starter flour as part of sourdough starter maintenance

I will often bake my no-knead bread. I’ll feed my starter as soon as I come home from work, and I put it in the proofer set to 28°C/82°F. It’s usually tripled by 21:00/9 p.m. I then mix the dough which I leave on the counter to ferment overnight.

I usually get up around 5:00/5 a.m. I will just quickly check the dough and pre-shape it before breakfast and then shape it after my breakfast. I then put it in the fridge until I have time to bake it. Usually the same evening.

What kind of feeding schedule for great sourdough starter maintenance?

Well, that depends on how often you bake.

  1. If you bake every day, do this:
    If you bake every day, it’s super easy. You just keep your starter out of the fridge, somewhere warm, and just feed it every day.
  2. If you bake once a week or less, do this:
    What I see most other sourdough bakers recommending is that you refrigerate your starter during the time when you are not using it.

    Then the day before you need it you take it out of the fridge and feed it a couple of times so that the dormant yeast can wake up again.

What I do, is a bit different, but is a great option, because your starter will always be ready for action.

So what you do is keep your starter out of the fridge at all times. If your kitchen is on the cold side, you may want to keep it in a proofer set to 28°C/82°F.

Feeding a starter water as part of a great sourdough starter maintenance

Then you just feed it when you need it. I will usually feed it about 4 hours before I need to use it in dough or a levain. I will make 25g-50g more than I need, which I just keep until the next time I need it.

I find it is much easier to keep a super active starter this way. When you put it into the fridge, the yeast goes dormant, and it will need a few feedings to be back in shape.

Keeping your starter out of the fridge will help it stay super active

I’ve even tried to it coming out of the fridge downright sluggish, and suddenly taking the double amount of time to grow, which can really be a pain when you worked out a schedule for your different recipes, that relies on your starter working a certain way.

Mixing the sourdough starter vigorously is important when you feed your sourdough starter

I’ll leave it up to you to decide what works best for your schedule and your temperament.

If you do decide to go with my “keep it on the counter” routine, I suggest that you backup your starter.

In general, it’s a good idea to keep a backup, if you are unfortunate to kill off your starter by some fluke.

Backing up your starter is a great sourdough starter maintenance practice

One way of keeping such a backup is just to put your active starter in a sealed container in your fridge. It will keep indefinitely.

Another and more permanent way to backup your sourdough starter is to dry it.

Feed your starter and let it grow to its peak. While it’s at its peak, smear some of the sourdough starter on a piece of parchment paper. Smear it really thin.

Backing up your starter as a dried starter involves smearing your active starter on a parchment paper

I find an offset spatula is a great help for this, alternatively, you can use a regular silicone spatula.

Leave it to air dry for about 24 hours (or until completely dry and brittle). Break it up and store it in a plastic bag at room temperature.

How to get back to a regular starter from a dried starter

If worst comes to worst and your active starter and your fridge back up starter fails and you need to restore your dried starter, do the following:

  1. Weigh your dried starter.
  2. Add the same amount of water (by weight) to the dried starter.
  3. Mix until the dried flakes have dissolved. The smaller pieces you made the faster this process will go.
  4. Then add the double amount (by weight) of flour, and the double amount of water and mix really well.
  5. Then leave it somewhere warm for 6 hours.
  6. Hopefully, your starter grew a bit.
  7. Then commence with a 1:2:2 feeding proportion every time the starter is at its peak until it is sufficiently active. Personally, I like my starter to triple for a maximum rising power.

It’s that simple!

Please share this article on sourdough starter maintenance on social media

This is my article on how you maintain your sourdough starter. I hope you found it helpful and that you learned something.

Please consider sharing this article on social media, so that fellow sourdough bakers can learn about sourdough starter maintenance.

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  1. Emre Ozen Reply

    So far I had no idea about back-uping up yiest by drying, amazing tip Sune. Thank you very much

    • Yes, it’s super practical 🙂 You are welcome 🙂

  2. Hi Sune, I’ve discovered your YT channel and enjoy your experiments re: convention wisdom. I’ve heard that one should feed a starter the same flour and not switch. In this scenario you would have a separate starter to feed with rye, a separate starter to feed with graham flour, etc. It’s just one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that makes things complicated. Any thoughts? – Christine from Lower East side, NYC.

    • Hello Christine,

      I switch the flours on my starter a lot. Usually in the levain though and then I keep the starter using 100% bread flour, but you can easily convert the starter to a different flour or a mix. Even gluten free if you want 🙂

  3. Dav Reply

    Great source of information, thank you. If you don’t bake every day and keep the starter at room temperature like you suggest, how many times a week do you feed it? Thanks

    • I don’t feed it unless I need to bake. The longest my starter went on the counter was 3 weeks without a feeding 🙂

  4. Joyce in Ohio, US Reply

    Thank you for all your detailed instructions. A friend recommended your website. I have a jar of dried starter that’s been in the pantry for a few years. I’ve got the sourdough bug again so appreciate your help in reviving a dried starter. I’m eager to try Danish rye!

    • What I usually to is this:

      1. Measure the dried starter
      2. Add the same amount of water
      3. Dissolve the dried starter completely
      4. Feed using equal amounts of flour and water, by weight
      5. Wait for it to rise. If it doesn’t repeat feeding until it does.
  5. Marina Reply

    Hello Sune, I am a fan of Your page! But until now I used to do your recipes with poolish. Now, I am trying unsuccessfully with a levain, bubbly, that doubles in volume but the dough doesn’t grow as expect neither during fermentation nor baking. Can you help me.

    • What temperature do you bulk at? Also, about how long from you mix the starter into the dough until you shape the bread?