The Best Sourdough Starter Feeding Ratio & Maintenance Guide

The best sourdough starter feeding ratio is not what most of the internet says it is. The default is a 1:1 ratio of flour to water but from all my experience that doesn’t work well. It leaves your starter weak and runny.

Instead, I’ve stuck with my own 2:1 ratio that strengthens the starter while feeding it. In this post, I’m sharing all my tips and answering the most common starter questions. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Source: Plum Branch Home

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Starter Feeding Video Tutorial

Best Sourdough Starter Feeding Ratio

Despite what others say on the internet, the best feeding ratio is 2:1, flour to water. It always creates the most delicious baked goods and breads. The measurements will vary depending on the amount of starter and the amount of room left in the jar.

  1. Example of a 2:1 ratio if you have 1 cup of starter left: 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water
    • Example in grams: 60 grams flour and 59 grams water (due to measuring with the weight you can’t cut the measurements in half as you can with cups)
  2. Example of a 2:1 ratio if you have 1/2 cup of starter left: 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water
    • Example in grams: 120 grams flour and 114 grams water (due to measuring with the weight you can’t cut the measurements in half as you can with cups)

Let’s Get Real Honest

Can I be completely honest with you, it really doesn’t matter. As long as the starter consistency is that of a thick pancake batter you don’t need to worry so much about measurements.

Sure when you’re first starting out it’s really nice to have a ratio to go by. Or even when you’ve been doing it awhile like myself, it’s nice to go back to the measurements when you don’t feel like eye balling it.

Just don’t get too swept up in the “rules” of sourdough. Starters are really hard to mess up.

Just Remember These Rules

Again don’t get too caught up with the measurements, just ensure the flour-to-water ratio is 2:1, the consistency of the fed starter is like a thick pancake batter, and the starter jar is no fuller than 2/3 so it doesn’t overflow.

jar of starter sitting on the counter
Source: Plum Branch Home

Sourdough Starter Feeding Tips

If you’re going to use it for recipes that don’t need a rise (for example: pancakes or tortillas), use it right out of the fridge. No need to feed or bring to room temp

If you’re using it for bread or bread-like recipes (for example: cinnamon rolls) that need a rise, pull it out of the fridge and feed it 4-12 hours before use.

Always feed your starter before putting it in the fridge.

If you pull your starter out of the fridge and it is bubbly, you don’t need to feed it before using it in recipes (if you use it within 4 hours after removing it). You can also use the float test to ensure it’s ready to rise your baked goods if the recipe calls for fed starter.

Best Flour for Feeding a Sourdough Starter

The best flour for feeding your starter is an unbleached all-purpose flour. It allows the fermentation process of the sourdough cultures to thrive.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use regular bleached all-purpose flour but just know the bleach in that flour can cause weaker starter cultures. I don’t recommend using this type but if you must, it’ll be okay.

You can also create a starter out of whole wheat, rye, or gluten-free flour. Just be sure to use the same flour type that was used to develop the starter and for all the feedings (the brand doesn’t matter so much).

Best Water for Feeding a Sourdough Starter

The best water for your starter is filtered. Whether that’s from an at-home water filtration system that’s hooked to your sink, the water out of your fridge dispenser, or a pitcher that filters.

If you live in the city or your water comes from the city, never use that. The additives used to treat the water before it comes to your house can weaken or kill your starter.

open jar of starter
Source: Plum Branch Home

Example Sourdough Starter Feeding Timeline

Counter Storage

Feed your starter a 2:1 ratio, 1x per day or 2x (every 12 hours) if it’s above 70 degrees inside your house.

  • 7 am – feed starter
  • 7 pm – feed starter

Fridge Storage (easiest way)

4-12 hours before using your starter, take it out of the fridge and feed it if you plan to use it for a recipe that needs a rise. After baking with the starter, feed it again and then stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to use next time.

Discarding Before Feeding

The only time you’ll have to discard before feeding is if the starter container is already half full to prevent overflowing. Take out 1/2 cup if needed.

looking inside a jar of starter
Source: Plum Branch Home

Sourdough Starter Feeding FAQ

How do I calculate how much to feed my sourdough starter?

Eye ball how much starter you have then apply the 2:1 feeding ratio. For example, if you have around 1 cup of starter in your jar, feed it 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Or you can feed it 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water.

Both are using the same ratio, the difference is how much starter it will produce after feeding it.

I don’t have enough starter for recipes, how do I make more of it?

If your starter already takes up half of the container transfer it to a clean larger container. Then do 2, 12 hour feedings of a 2:1 ratio without taking any out. For example, if you have about 1/2 cup of starter, feed it 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. This will give you a larger starter.

Can you overfeed a sourdough starter?

Sourdough cultures are pretty resilient but just like any living thing you can overfeed it. This dilutes the fermentation process and makes the starter weak. This only happens if you do more than the 2:1 feeding or feed it more frequently than every 4 hours.

Do I need to discard every time I feed my starter?

No, as long as your starter has room to ferment after you feed it, you don’t need to discard.

Do I feed my starter every time I put it into the fridge and again when I take it out?

For good practice, yes that’s the best way to go about feeding your starter to ensure it’s ready to use in recipes. If it’s been in the fridge for less than 2 days, you don’t need to feed it when you pull it out. If you’re ever doubting if the starter is ready to rise your baked goods, do the float test.

Why does my refrigerated starter have hooch on top?

This just means your starter is hungry. Hooch happens more often when a starter is left on the counter due to a faster fermentation process. This can still happen when the fermentation is slowed in the fridge, it just takes a bit longer.

Pour the hooch off or stir it in, nothing is wrong.

I’m going on vacation, what do I do about feeding my starter?

No matter if you’re leaving for 1 week or 1 month, just feed your starter the night before you leave, stick it in the fridge, and don’t worry about it. When you get home it will have a layer of grey hooch on top, that’s normal. The darker color is also normal.

Just pour the liquid off, give it a good 2:1 feeding, and stick it back in the fridge until you’re ready to use it again. It’s resilient, you don’t need to worry about it.

Is it easy to kill a sourdough starter?

No, these starters are full of resilient cultures. Sure they get hungry but they’re not easy to kill. I’ve read stories where people revived a starter that was in the back of the fridge for over a year and not fed the entire time.

My starter keeps overflowing the jar after feeding it, what do I do?

You’ll want to move the starter to a larger jar. It just needs more room to expand. If you don’t have a larger jar, take out half and feed it a small 2:1 ratio. For example if you want to keep 1 cup of starter, feed it 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup water.

My starter has hooch on top. Do I pour it off or stir it in?

That is a personal preference. It doesn’t matter which one you do.

What can I do with discard?

Oh goodness there are so many things you can do. Checkout my favorite sourdough discard recipes for ideas.

My starter has a clear layer of liquid on top. What is it?

This is hooch, it smells like alcohol and just means your starter needs to be fed. You can pour it off or stir it in. Hooch can sometimes turn grey.

How long will my starter last if I forget to feed it?

It’ll last months. I don’t recommend leaving it for months but if life gets busy and you forget, don’t worry about it. I’ve heard stories of starters not being fed for 6 months to 1 year and people have saved them.

How do I know when my starter has gone bad?

If your starter smells like mold or turns black or pink, those are signs it’s gone bad. If it’s grey, it’s just hungry. Always keep a dehydrated starter in the pantry in case it ever does go bad.

My starter looks grey, is it moldy?

Not at all, the grey just means it’s hungry. It should still smell like sourdough but have an alcohol smell. If it’s ever moldy it’ll smell like mold and turn black or pink.

If I want to keep 2 cups of starter and feed it the 2:1 ratio, how do I calculate the feeding?

The measurements will depend on how much starter you have left before feeding. If you have 1 cup left in your jar, feed it 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. If you have 1/2 cup starter left, feed it 1 and 1/2 cups flour and 3/4 cup water.

If a recipe says to feed my starter a certain way should I?

That’s a personal preference, I never do. It’s usually included to help beginners and won’t affect your recipe. You may find the hydration of your starter will be a little different than theirs. If that’s the case just add more flour or liquid to the recipe if the dough or batter feels too dry or sticky.

How should I cover my starter jar?

Never cover your starter with an air-tight lid, the fermentation process can cause the jar to explode. To prevent this you’ll want to use a loosely fitted lid.

How many times a day should I feed my starter?

That depends on how you store your starter. If it’s in the fridge you don’t need to feed it until 4-12 hours before you want to use it. If it’s stored on the counter you’ll need to feed it every 12-24 hours.

How thick should my starter be?

It should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter.

How much starter should I keep?

That’s a personal preference but I always recommend keeping 1-2 cups that way you have plenty of starter and won’t run out.

What is the best container to keep a starter?

The best container is a glass container to keep your starter. Whether that’s a large mason jar or a storage jar. You can honestly put it in anything. Check out this blog post for more container information: Choosing a Sourdough Starter Jar (and answering starter jar questions).

Do I need a digital kitchen scale to maintain my starter?

Not at all! Let me repeat, you do not need a digital kitchen scale to maintain or bake with your starter. The scale does make measurements more accurate but it is in no way, shape, or form necessary.

What is the starter hydration level and why is it important?

A starter hydration level is the amount of flour and water in the sourdough starter. The thicker the consistency the lower the hydration. While the thinner the more hydrated. The 2:1 ration gives the starter a 50% hydration.

Understanding hydration is important to help you when baking with your starter. A lower hydration starter may cause you to use more liquid in a recipe. Where as a higher hydration starter may cause you to use more flour in a recipe.

I ran out of the flour I normally feed my starter, can I use something different?

As long as it’s the same type of flour, yes you can use a different brand. For example if you’ve been using an all-purpose flour but you ran out of the brand, you could use a different brand to feed it.

Just be sure to never switch from all-purpose to wheat or wheat to rye. You also don’t want to go from unbleached flour to bleached/regular flour. But you can go from bleached/regular to unbleached just not the other way around.

Will my starter spoil if I leave it at room temperature?

No it will not. It will ferment much faster leaving it hungry. Meaning you’ll need to feed it a lot more. But the fermentation in the starter acts as a natural defense against bacteria and spoiling.

More Sourdough Blog Posts to Check Out

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  1. Wow this blog helped me so much to understand my starter and deal with it!!
    It’s explained in a way so it’s not so scary to have a sourdough starter.
    I was afraid I would not feed it enough, over feed it and even kill it.

    1. This makes me so happy to read! Thank you for sharing how helpful this post is! I’m so glad it’s helped you better understand your starter and gives you the peace of mind for feedings.

  2. Midwest farm wife says:

    Thank you for making taking care of my starter so easy! I had so many questions and worries but this blog answers them all and gave me some confidence that I’m doing things right. Looking forward to some yummy treats!

    1. You are so very welcome! That’s exactly what I had hoped this blog post would do, thank you for sharing how helpful it is! I am so happy it answered your questions and gave you the confidence to bake with your starter 😊