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How to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter

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In this post, I’ll teach you how to refresh, and maintain your sourdough starter.  I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve learned since I started baking sourdough bread.

Slicing a Loaf of Sourdough Bread

Slicing a loaf of Sourdough Bread

Slicing into a beautiful loaf of bread you’ve created yourself is really rewarding!

My 4 Part Sourdough Bread Tutorial

In my first post, I gave you an overview of the process of baking sourdough bread: all the stuff I wish someone had told me, before I got started. I told you some things I think you should be prepared to deal with, if you want to give this rewarding process a whirl.

In the second post  on baking sourdough bread, I explained  WHY it’s important to only use the ingredients specified in this recipe, and also mentioned specific tools you will need.

Today’s post is the third in a series of four posts on how to make sourdough bread. But it’s NOT a post about how to make your own sourdough starter,  There is a simple reason for this: I have never done it.

There ARE books that will tell you precisely how to do this, and the one I’m reading and loving right now is called Local Breads, by Daniel Leader.  After checking this book out from the library, I knew it was important and informative enough that I actually wanted to own it. So, that’s a pretty high recommendation. I’m looking forward to trying quite a few of its recipes.

How I Began Baking Sourdough Bread

Here’s how I stumbled into unintentionally owning (but not making) my own starter.

I was given my starter by a neighbor who had ordered it for herself, but who upon receiving it,  then realized the level of involvement one needs to be a good sourdough parent, and who (happily, inasmuch as it concerned me) asked me if I might be willing to adopt her starter. I jumped at the chance, produced my first “meh” loaf of bread by following the directions that came with my King Arthur starter,  and began my journey toward making truly wonderful sourdough bread.

 My search took me to Cook’s Illustrated, with whom I have a wonderful track record of finding scientifically satisfying and accurate answers. Using the King Arthur starter, with the directions that I obtained from Cook’s Illustrated, I’ve achieved the kind of simple sourdough loaf I hoped I might be able to produce.

What I’ve Made With My Sourdough Starter (Other Than Sourdough Bread)

My search goes on for different varieties and uses of sourdough, and so far, I’ve found I can make a scrumptious sourdough pizza crust, and wonderful waffles using my sourdough starter. I’ve also discovered that there are some phenomenally bad sourdough recipes out there on the internet, and that you can’t trust every recipe you run into, no matter how yummy it sounds. But at least I don’t have to make THOSE cinnamon rolls again!

What This Post Is About: Refreshing and Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter

Today’s post contains all the directions you need for refreshing and maintaining a sourdough starter.

So the very first thing I want you to understand is that these directions have very little to do with actually baking a loaf of bread.

This is just the necessary background work you have to do so that you CAN make a great loaf of sourdough bread.

This is NOT a recipe for sourdough bread.

That will come in the next, and last post in this series.
In other words, these directions, for refreshing and maintaining a sourdough starter, while NECESSARY, are not SUFFICIENT.

Once you have obtained a sourdough starter, (and I’ll put a link to one you can get from Amazon, below the recipe card. ), you will need to follow the package directions for getting the starter active, (a one time process), THEN you will follow these directions so that you can be ready to make your first loaf of bread. Following these directions for refreshing your sourdough starter involves around 36 hours, total.

What This Means in Real Life, for Those Who Hate Word Problems

So if you want a couple of loaves of bread on Wednesday, you’ll follow the “refresh the starter” process for 36 hours, beginning on Sunday night, and you’ll be ready to begin the bread baking process on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday, once the bread dough is kneaded and prepared, it needs to enjoy a nice, slow ferment overnight in your fridge on Tuesday night, and then you’ll be ready to let it do a final rise on Wednesday outside your refrigerator, and then, you’ll be ready to bake it.

It’s involved, I know.

But two big loaves of sourdough bread last us for a week. I generally serve it when we have time for a nicer sit down meal together. (And we’re pretty busy these days, with activities scheduled for 3 nights out of each week.) If my menu doesn’t lend itself to a loaf of bread on the night I’ve baked my loaves of bread, then I freeze the uncut bread, and then I have beautiful loaf of sourdough bread available for a special meal when guests come over.

Do you know how great the bragging rights are when you can tell someone you made that wonderful sourdough bread they are enjoying?

Huge! 😀

What to Do If You Want to Be Ready to Bake Every Day

If you want to be ready to bake bread any day you like, you CAN omit refrigeration of your starter, and store the starter out on your counter, but if you choose to go that route, you must refresh it daily with flour and water. That will cause you to go through a tremendous amount of flour, pretty quickly. But it will give you more flexibility in terms of being able to start a loaf of bread at a moment’s notice. If you need to bake bread pretty often, because, for example,  you have a large family, storing your starter on the counter and feeding it daily might be your best bet.

I took this picture in the early days of learning to make sourdough bread, to show the type container I was using to grow the starter in, and the height in the jar that the starter reached before it was refreshed. Also note that the weight of the starter doesn’t change: I just didn’t have the lid on the jar in this picture .
Very important: please note that IN THIS PICTURE, I was using the wrong type of flour, because I am pig-headed, and slow to learn.


See how much my starter grew overnight? Look how high it got in the jar. (Note that the weight didn’t change: it’s just that after I took the last picture, I added the jar lid.)
How to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter for Making Sourdough Bread

How to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter for Making Sourdough Bread

Please let me know if you have questions, or if anything I’ve said is unclear.
I recommend that you print out these instructions, and pin them to a Pinterest board, as well. Please feel free to share this on Facebook or Twitter, also.

The Directions You Need to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter

 (Assuming you plan to refrigerate it when not in use)

Yield: 1 jar of sourdough starter

How to Refresh and Maintain a Sourdough Starter

How to refresh and maintain a sourdough starter, with instructions so that you can keep it going as long as you'd like.


  • Sourdough starter
  • Bottled or filtered water
  • Unbleached, all purpose flour with 11 to 13% protein content


  1. How to refresh your starter:
  2. Begin this process in the evening, two days before you plan to begin the recipe to bake bread.
  3. Stir the starter well to recombine any liquid that may have gathered on the top. Measure out 1 c. (8 oz.) of starter, and discard remaining starter. (I dump mine down the sink. You also, however, have the option of giving what you would have discarded to a friend who is interested in trying sourdough baking. Alternatively, I've seen a recipe for cheese crackers, by Alton Brown that use the starter, and look delicious! )
  4. Place measured starter in a glass bowl or container with at least 1 1/2 quart capacity. Stir in 1 c. (8 oz.) of bottled or filtered water, until combined. Then stir in 1 1/2 c. (7 1/2 oz.) flour, until evenly moistened. The mixture will be lumpy, like pancake batter. That's just fine. Cover with plastic wrap.
  5. Let stand at room temperature for 8 - 12 hours.
  6. Now repeat this process two more times (feeding every 12 hours). The first time will be the next morning; the second time will be the next evening. (For example, if you start refreshing your starter on Sunday evening, you will refresh it a second time on Monday morning, and the last time on Monday evening. You will be ready to USE the starter you have refreshed in a recipe on Tuesday morning.)
  7. Now that your starter is refreshed, you can use the amount specified in the bread recipe that you are baking. Return the unused portion of refreshed starter to the refrigerator for a week. At that point, you will need to give it another feeding.

  8. Long term starter maintenance:
  9. If you don't plan to bake for a while, you can store your starter, covered, in the refrigerator, even up to several weeks, and revive it the next time you'd like to bake, following the steps given here. It is best to feed it weekly, however, even if you don't plan to use it that week. Just stir it up, and follow the directions given for one feeding (discarding excess, and adding the prescribed amounts of flour and water). Leave it out for 4 - 6 hours to allow some bubbling to occur (that means the yeasties are doing their thing), and then return it to the refrigerator.

Bread Me, Baby

For the Carbophiles Among us....More Bread.


Thursday 29th of November 2018

If I didn't discard after each additional feeding is my starter still ok to use??/

Susan Williams

Thursday 29th of November 2018

Ellen, to be sure your starter is vibrant and alive, I'd begin by discarding some, continuing the process of feeding it and discarding as the directions state for several days, and just be sure that your starter looks bubbly and vibrant before you use it. The ratios of how much to feed and discard are given because they've been tested, and they work, and they are written as they are so that you won't end up with copious amounts of not very well fed starter. So, save some, and start feeding it, per the directions.


Wednesday 7th of November 2018

Hi Susan, I've just started the process of refreshing a starter I have inherited. I've done the first stage; when you say "repeat the process two more times", does that start from the weighing out? So weigh out 9 oz again and discard any excess twice more? Thanks!

Susan Williams

Thursday 8th of November 2018

Yes, Lyn, that's correct. Stir it together, then weigh out the 9 oz. again, and discard any excess.


Friday 6th of October 2017

Long story short: I just got a new starter and started feeding/refreshing it two days ago. I suspect my proportions were off because I've ended up with a starter that's too thick to manage. Any suggestions for thinning my starter? (Perhaps I just need to add water?)

Susan Williams

Friday 6th of October 2017

That would be my guess as well. I'd add water.


Sunday 15th of January 2017

Thank you! This is exactly the information I've been looking for.


Monday 23rd of December 2013

My starter seems to have gotten less bubbly recently. I've tried refreshing it, but - eh, not so impressive results. It certainly doesn't rise like yours does! The flavor of the bread and the quality of it is still great, but I feel like it's not responding like it did a few months ago.... Any insight?

Susan Williams

Monday 23rd of December 2013

Since I bought my starter, and I don't know the origin of yours, or much more about it, my best advice would be refreshing it on a daily basis for a while, to see if you can kickstart it. If not, then I'd start over. But when I was working on these little projects faithfully, there would be some days when I had originally planned to bake...and then wouldn't get around to it. So, I'd just feed it again, and plan to use it the next day. I always noticed that a few extra days of refreshment really got things roaring along nicely. Hope that helps! If it doesn't, it might be time to start over.

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