This post will teach you how to make a beginner sourdough starter at home, step-by-step. All you need is flour, water and a little bit of patience. Before you know it, you’ll have your very own bubbly, active starter ready to make THE BEST sourdough bread, sourdough focaccia, homemade sourdough pizza crust and much more!
Looking to bake incredible sourdough bread? First: you’ll need a sourdough starter. Without it, your bread won’t rise. It’s the absolute heart and soul of sourdough baking. Creating one from scratch is not hard to do. However, the process can seem intimidating (especially for beginners). Let’s change that. Adapted from my book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, I will demystify and simplify the process step-by-step.
Once your starter is established, it can be used for a wide variety of sourdough bread recipes including this scrumptious sourdough bread with olive oil (most popular recipe on my blog!), my sourdough focaccia, sourdough pizza crust, sandwich bread and soft sourdough cinnamon rolls to name a few!
What is a Sourdough Starter?
Sourdough is more than just a recipe; it’s an understanding. So before we dive in, let’s define. Simply put: a sourdough starter is a live fermented culture of fresh flour and water. Once combined, the culture will begin to ferment and cultivate the natural yeasts found in our environment. A small portion is added to your bread dough to make it rise. Commercial yeast IS NOT required.
Sounds a bit weird, right? Of course it does. And it should. Know this: natural “wild” yeast is all around us. It can be found in a bag of flour, in the air, on your hands etc. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there and doing its thing. It’s like magic.
How Long Will It Take?
To create a sourdough starter from scratch, the overall process should take about 7 days (or more) from start to finish- it’s not instant. First, you’ll create the starter with whole wheat flour to jumpstart fermentation. Then, you’ll continue to feed it with regular all purpose flour to cultivate the wild yeasts and friendly bacteria.
When Will it Be Ready To Use?
Your starter is ready when it has doubled in size, with plenty of bubbles on the surface and throughout the culture.
NOTE: It’s not uncommon for it to take up to two weeks or more for the starter to become active. It all depends. I know this timeframe sounds a bit vague, but growing yeast in a jar (that’s basically what you’re doing) can be unpredictable at times. Please be patient if the process takes time for you- it’s normal.
Is it Difficult to Do?
Absolutely not! In short: you’re basically adding flour and water to a jar, feeding it with more flour and water over time, and then waiting for it to become bubbly and double in size. That’s it. Most of your time involvement is hands-off. Can I ask you a favor though?
Don’t overthink it.
There’s a lot of sourdough information out there, and you will fall down a major rabbit hole if you start poking around. Just stick to this tutorial for now and follow the steps.
Beginner Sourdough Starter Recipe
You will Need:
- 3/4 L jar (I use this one)
To create the starter:
- 60 g (1/2 cup) whole wheat flour
- 60 g (1/4 cup) water
To feed the starter each day (Day 3-7):
- 60 g (1/2 cup) unbleached all purpose flour or bread flour
- 60 g (1/4 cup) water
Tip: Use regular, unbleached all purpose flour for best results- skip organic. The enzymes are different which can hinder the rising process the first time around. I use either KAF, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Filtered water or tap water is fine. Use the latter if you know it’s mostly chemical/chlorine free.
Day 1: Make the Starter
Combine 60 g (1⁄2 cup) of whole wheat flour and 60 g (1⁄4 cup) of warm water in a large jar.
Mix with a fork until smooth; the consistency will be thick and pasty. If measuring by volume, add more water to thin out the texture if needed. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid, and let it rest in a warm spot, about 75-80 F for 24 hours.
Tip: Looking for a warm spot? Place your starter on a cookie sheet inside the oven (turned off) with the light on for a few hours (but not overnight- it might become too warm). You can also use a proofing box set to your desired temperature, or a microwave with the door ajar and the light on.
Day 2: Got Bubbles?
Today, you’re going to check if any small bubbles have appeared on the surface.
Bubbles indicate fermentation, which is what you want! However, it’s okay if you don’t see anything right away; the bubbles might have appeared and dissolved overnight while you were sleeping. This happens quite often.
You do not have to do anything else right now. It does not need any flour or water. Just rest the starter in your warm spot for another 24 hours.
Day 2 (Con’t): What’s that brown liquid?
During the creation process, and even after your starter has been established, a dark liquid might appear on the starter (the image above shows the liquid in the middle of the starter- it’s usually found on the surface).
This liquid is called “hooch” and is an indication that your starter needs to be fed. It also has a very stinky smell, similar to rubbing alcohol or gym socks. This is normal. Don’t freak out. Any time you see this liquid, it’s best to pour it off, along with any discolored starter present. However, on Day 2 just leave the hooch alone; you can get rid of it tomorrow when you start the feedings.
Day 3: Feed Your Starter
Whether bubbles are visible or not, it’s time to start the feeding process.
Remove and discard approximately half of your starter from the jar (you should have about 60 g left). Use a spoon. The texture will be very stretchy. Add 60 g (1⁄2 cup) of all-purpose our and 60 g (1/4 cup) of warm water. Mix with a fork until smooth.
The texture should resemble thick pancake batter or plain yogurt (not Greek) at this point so add more water as needed. Cover and let rest in your warm spot for another 24 hours.
DAYS 4, 5, & 6: Keep on Feeding!
Repeat the same feeding process as outlined on Day 3:
Remove and discard half of the starter, and feed it with 60 g (1⁄2 cup) of all-purpose flour and 60 g (1/4 cup) of warm water. As the yeast begins to develop, your starter will rise, and bubbles will form on the surface and throughout the culture.
When the starter falls, it’s time to feed it again.
Tip: Place a rubber band or piece of masking tape around the jar to measure the starter’s growth as it rises.
Day 7: A Sourdough starter is born!
By now, your sourdough starter should have doubled in size.
You should see plenty of bubbles, both large and small. The texture will now be spongy, fluffy, and similar to roasted marshmallows (think: s’mores). It should also smell pleasant and not like stinky gym socks. If these conditions are met, your starter is now active.
The very last step is to transfer your sourdough starter to a nice, clean jar. In keeping with tradition, you can also name it (and please do!). My starter is called Dillon after my oldest boy and it’s bright and bubbly, just like he is ;)
Now you’re ready to bake! Start with my beginner sourdough bread recipe- you’re going to love it!
What’s Next? Let’s Make BRead!
- Sourdough Bread Recipe (reader favorite!)
- Beginner’s Guide to Sourdough Focaccia
- Best Sourdough Pizza Crust (No steel or stone!)
- Feeding Sourdough Starter: My Best Tips & Tricks
- Troubleshooting Your Sourdough Starter
A Few Tips for Ongoing Care…
So you’ve created a sourdough starter! Now what?
Just like any living creature, it must be kept alive with regular feedings to maintain its strength. If your starter is not strong, your bread will not rise. Caring for your starter is much easier than you’d think, and certainly won’t take hours of your time.
Note: You will need to feed your starter every time prior to making bread dough and to maintain it (keep it alive).
How to Feed a Sourdough Starter
- Begin by removing and discarding about half of your starter.
- Replenish what’s left in the jar with fresh all purpose flour and water.
- Cover loosely, and let it rise at room temperature until bubbly and double in size. Once it falls, the bubbles will become frothy and eventually disappear. Then you’ll know it’s time to feed your starter again.
- Feed your starter everyday if it’s stored at room temperature. If you keep it in the fridge, feed it once a week.
PS: If you miss a feeding, don’t worry- your starter is not going to die. It might look ugly (and smell horrendous) but it usually just needs a few feedings to perk back up.
When is Your Sourdough Starter Ready To Use?
Your starter is ready when it shows all of the following signs:
- bulk growth to about double in size
- small and large bubbles on the surface and throughout the culture
- spongy or fluffy texture
- pleasant aroma (not reminiscent of nail polish remover/gym socks/rubbing alcohol)
If you’re having trouble spotting the signs, don’t forget to place a rubber band around the base of the jar to measure the starter’s growth.
You can also try the float test mentioned above: Drop a small dollop of starter into a glass of water. If it floats to the top, it’s ready to use.
How to Store Your Sourdough Starter
Once your starter is established, you have two storage options to consider.
At Room Temperature: If you bake often—let’s say a few times a week—store your starter at room temperature. This will speed up fermentation, making the starter bubbly, active, and ready to use faster. Room temperature starters should be fed one to two times a day, depending on how quickly they rise and fall.
In the Fridge: If you don’t bake that often, store your starter in the fridge covered with a lid. You’ll only need to feed it about once a week or so to maintain its strength when not in use (you can just feed it cold and then pop it back in the fridge right afterwards; no need to warm it up first). When you are ready to make dough, feed your starter at room temperature as needed, to wake it back up.
**TIP** For more info on sourdough starters please read Feeding Sourdough Starter: My Best Tips & Tricks.
Sourdough Starter Faqs
Yes. All purpose flour is easy to find, inexpensive and reliable for starter growth.
Yes. Because whole grain flour absorbs more water than all purpose flour, adjust the texture with additional water if it’s too thick.
Yes. Adjust the texture with additional water if it’s too thick.
Yes. But it’s not recommended. The chemicals can throw off the rising process. However, some readers have reported success with bleached flour. Your choice!
It might. To clarify: organic flour is not bad to use. The enzymes are just a bit different. This means the overall process might take longer than indicated. I recommend using all purpose flour instead because it’s more predictable (and less expensive!).
Whole wheat flour is used to jumpstart the fermentation process. If you do not have whole wheat flour, just use all purpose flour instead. The starter will be fine. I switch to all purpose flour for the feedings because it’s reliable, inexpensive and practical for everyday baking (remember, a portion of your starter is removed, discarded, or used for something else).
To refresh the acidity levels and to control the overall growth in size.
To learn more please read, Sourdough Discard 101: Recipes & Faqs Answered.
In the beginning, I typically don’t recommend using the discard (it’s usually really smelly and discolored). I recommend using the discard after the starter has been established. However, everyone will have a different experience with this. If it looks good- use it!
For more info please read, Sourdough Discard 101: Recipes & Faqs Answered.
If your starter is used to one type of flour, and then you swap it out for something else, just give it time to adjust. It might react immediately (in a good way!) or it might be sluggish at first and then eventually perk up.
For more info please read, Feeding Sourdough Starters: My Best Tips & Tricks.
Beginner Sourdough Starter Recipe
- Yield: appx. 240 g
- Category: Sourdough Starter
- Method: 1-Bowl
- Cuisine: American
- Diet: Vegan
Looking for an easy, sourdough starter recipe for beginners? Adapted from Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, follow my no-nonsense guide for practical tips, tricks, and ongoing care- anyone can do it.
Note: Once your starter is established, use it to make my sourdough bread.
- 1x (5lb) bag all purpose flour (I use either KAF, Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods)
- 1/2 cup (60g) whole wheat flour (I use KAF whole wheat)
- Water (preferably warm around 85F )
- The overall process typically takes 7 days, if the temperature is warm enough. However, it can take up to 2 weeks or more for a strong starter to become established. Please be patient. Find a warm spot for your starter to rise (see tip in recipe below), and use warm water in your feedings (if necessary) to give the fermentation a boost.
- Only a small amount of whole wheat flour is used to jumpstart the fermentation process. If you don’t want to commit to a large bag, smaller bags are available in most grocery stores. Alternatively, you can use all purpose flour only.
- You will also need one large 3/4 L jar, or something of similar size (I use this one.).
Day 1: Combine 60 g (1⁄2 cup) of whole wheat flour and 60 g (1⁄4 cup) of warm water in a large jar. Mix with a fork until smooth; the consistency will be thick and pasty. If measuring by volume, add more water to slightly thin out the texture if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap, reusable wax wrap, or a lid and let it rest in a warm spot, about 75-80 F, for 24 hours. Temperature is important.
TIP: Looking for a warm spot? Place your starter on a cookie sheet inside the oven (turned off) with the light on for an hour or two (it can get hot in there, so keep you eye on it!). Center rack is best. You can also use a proofing box set to your desired temperature, or a microwave with the door ajar and light on.
Day 2: Check to see if any bubbles have appeared on the surface. If you don’t see anything, it’s okay. The bubbles might have appeared and dissolved overnight while you were sleeping. You don’t have to do anything else now. Rest the starter for another 24 hours.
TIP: During the creation process, and even after your starter has been established, a dark liquid might appear on the surface and throughout the culture. It has a very stinky smell, similar to rubbing alcohol or gym socks. This liquid is called “hooch” and is an indication that your starter needs to be fed. It’s normal. Any time you see this liquid, it’s best to remove it along with any discolored starter present. However, on Day 2 just leave the hooch alone. You can remove it tomorrow when you start the feedings.
Day 3: Remove and discard approximately half of your starter from the jar (you should have 60 g left). The texture will be very stretchy. Add 60 g (1⁄2 cup) of all-purpose flour and 60 g (1/4 cup) of warm water to the jar. Mix with a fork until smooth. The texture should resemble thick pancake batter or plain yogurt at this point. Cover and let rest in your warm spot for another 24 hours.
As the yeast begins to develop, your starter will rise, and bubbles will form on the surface and throughout the culture. When the starter falls, it’s time to feed it again. TIP: Place a rubber band or piece of masking tape around the jar to measure the starter’s growth as it rises.
At a glance, your overall daily schedule with measurements should look like this:
- Day 1: 60 g flour + 60 g water = 120 g starter
- Day 2: Do nothing
- Day 3: Remove & discard half of the starter/ 60 g starter + 60 g flour + 60 g water = 180 g starter
- Day 4: Remove & discard half of the starter/ 90 g starter + 60 g flour + 60 g water = 210 g starter
- Day 5: Remove & discard half of the starter/ 105 g starter + 60 g flour + 60 g water = 225 g starter
- Day 6: Remove & discard half of the starter/ 112.2 g starter + 60 g flour + 60 g water = 232.5 g starter
- Day 7: Remove & discard half of the starter/ 116.25 g starter + 60 g flour + 60 g water = 236.27 g starter
Wondering if your starter is ready to use?
When your starter is fully active, do the float test. Feed your starter, wait for it to double in size, and then drop a teaspoon of bubbly starter into a jar of water; if it floats to the top it’s ready to use.
If you bake often, store your starter at room temperature (feed it 1x-2x a day to keep it active). If you plan to bake only once in a while, store it in the fridge to preserve its strength (feed it 1x a week). When storing your starter in the fridge, there’s no need to bring it to room temperature first before feeding it. Just give it some flour and water and pop it back in the fridge.
Keywords: sourdough, sourdough starter, beginner sourdough starter, recipe, easy, sourdough bread
Hello, thanks for sharing the recipe. I’m on day 3 now. I put my starter in the microwave for the first 48 hours and the smell reeked, the whole microwave didn’t smell pleasant, quite pungent. I assumed it’s from the hooch.
Day 3 comes and I keep it on the countertop as the temp was about 25c, and it’s still omitting a pungent smell. Is that normal or did my starter go bad?
does it need to be a 3/4 L jar
Is it okay if the initial whole wheat bread is organic ?
Hello I need help, I’m on day 5 and my starter does not bubble or rise. I’m so confused because earlier in the post it says to feed 1:1:1 but the recipe directions don’t feed the starter more than 60g daily while the starter grams grow daily. Should I be feeding it more? Should I discard and start over since it has not bubbled or grown?
Hello – thank you for this easy to follow sourdough recipe! I’m wondering why I got black (and white) fuzzy mold on my starter? I followed instructions EXCEPT: On day 4 I forgot to feed. By day 6 I had both black and white fuzzy mold on side of jar. Any thoughts?
Tracey L McDonald says
I followed this step by step starter recipe. The starter is ready (passed the float test) I made a small batch Sunday and it has not risen at all! The dough feels good but not rising? I had it outside in the sun with temps 27 C and lower in the evening.
Storing starter in refrigerator and feeding weekly. Does starter need to be left out of fridge to let it rise or is it placed back in fridge right away even though it hasen’t risen?
Can I feed my starter with whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose?
Thanks for a great tutorial!
I have attempted to make my own starter several times now. First time I started off with Generic supermarket whole wheat flour and after 3 weeks of feeding it every day like I should, I had at best 50% increase in volume, not doubling and no sign of improving. Tried the same with different supermarket bought flours (spelt and all purpose) but similar or worse results. Sometimes the first day seemed promising, but after that it went flat.
Since I live in northwestern Europe, thought the temperature might be the problem, so I built an isolated box with germination mat with thermostat to keep it at the right temperature. But even trying to get a started going at a constant 22-24C (72-75 Fahrenheit) and going for another 3-4 weeks did not yield satisfactory results.
A few weeks ago I thought I would give it a final try, but now I bought organic whole wheat rye at a local store that sells organic foods. The first day was very promising again, but I was cautious in my optimism, but no caution was needed. After two days the starter was doubling and another two days later it was even tripling in size! I made a levain from it, feeding that with whole wheat flour and it remained strong, consistently more than doubling.
Now I’m making various things from your book (which is awesome!) and the results are amazing. My family loves the things I make now.
So if anyone else is having trouble getting the starter going: the flour you use can make all the difference!
I have been at this method for about 2 weeks and nothing! It gets a few bubbles but thats it. Its in a warm spot. I even took the temp of the starter and its right at 80. I also keep getting a thick skin on top of my starter. No matter what I try…lid cracked etc. I get the skin. I so frustrated and it feels so wasteful. Any other advice to what is going on? Oh, and I am weighing all my feedings. Thanks
mary Ann Scheel says
Make sure you are not using chlorinated water!
Only use filtered water.
Same question as below…I bought the jar you use…but when is it latched tight? In all the pictures I see it is open and the started is overflowing in some…???
Why this expensive jar if we don’t need the lid???
Joe Black, Sr. says
Emilie, As for the jar you use to make and keep your starter in, Dillon, do you cover and Latch the lid while it is fermenting? Or do you leave the lid ajar? If you store it in the fridge, do I latch the lid? I don’t want to make a “starter bomb”, but I have seen Kim Chi in closed jars bubbling.
Kimberly C says
Question about feeding and storing the starter early on. After day3, do you need to store it in a warm place still? Or is room temperature okay??
I am so excited to make my own sourdough!
Hi, I made your sour dough starter and it looks good on day seven but it doesn’t look like how yours looked in the picture so is it ready to use, I’m only 11 and I’ve made bread before so this is not my first time but I just don’t know.
Silvia Fernandez says
I don’t bake that often so I’ll place my starter in the fridge. On feeding it once a week, do I also have to discard 1/2 of it before feeding it?
Thank you so much for a wonderful directions. I have a healthy, bubbly new starter. Not sure if I missed this information somewhere, but how often should you switch to a clean jar for your starter? Can it stay in the same jar without being cleaned?
Used whole wheat flour to start as in the recipe and then continued to feed with whole wheat instead of all purpose. Turned out great! Seemed ready in 7 days!
I forgot to feed it on day 3, is it garbage or can I start on day 4?
Chana Weinstein says
Hi! I have made your sourdough before and I loved it!
I am making my sourdough from scratch again and I was wondering if I can take the starter that I have to discard and put it into another jar and feed it?
How much starter do you discard after day 7 if your sourdough starter is not ready to use?
Marcus Holzer says
My starter creates “hootch” every time. I do not care for the smell, so I have tossed it out; but, maybe it is ok. I am on day four and I fed it, but less water this time. So, my question is: Should the “hootch” smell like vomit at this point or am I botching your recipe?
PS, please help! I am determined to bake one fantastic loaf.
Hi Emilie, just a question on the parts that you’re discarding. On day 3, if you’re discarding half the mixture – could you pop that into another jar and feed both jars? Then halve both jars on day 4 and have 4 jars to feed? I have a few friends that are also keen on making some starter so thought maybe that was a good way to not waste the mixture and still end up with a bunch of starter jars for us all. Not sure if it works that way though?
Hello, I am so thankful for your website! I’m on my first sourdough starter…probably day 8 or so. I’m feeding it around 9pm overnight and in the morning it’s doubled and super bubbly. I keep thinking it’s ready but I’m scared to try to make the bread and ruin it. I’ve noticed that it’s starting to fall by midday. Am I supposed to be feeding it when I notice it has fallen? I thought I was only supposed to feed it every 24 hours. It was at the top of the jar this morning and fell a little when I opened it, but I did the test of dropping some in water and it sank. I thought it was ready, but now I’m not sure. Is it possible it sank because I didn’t test it right away?
Sandra Mcknight says
I always wanted to try sourdough bread. Today is day 7 and my starter was runny. I took off half and feed it. Is this normal. We had 3 really warm days and then it cooled back down would this effect it to make it runny
Nala Knowles says
Hi. Does it have to be whole wheat flour to start? Can I just use ap flour all the way through?
Emilie Raffa says
Whole wheat flour is used to jumpstart fermentation; however you can use all ap or bread flour instead.
Cole Reichman says
How much do you discard when your storing it in the fridge and take it out once a week to feed it?
Emilie Raffa says
Typically, just a small portion. It’s hard to give exact amounts because it depends on your starter’s current condition (healthy vs. sluggish) and the quantity of starter you have to begin with. So let me explain by example: let’s say you have 1 cup of starter in the fridge, and it’s about a week old. No hooch on top. It’s not discolored. You feed it every week. I would only pour off 1/4 cup? That should be sufficient. Now, if your starter is really old, discolored, lots of hooch, smells really bad, consider pouring off more.
I have a bag of King Arthur bread flour. Can I use it for my feedings? Or will it interfere with the process?
Emilie Raffa says
Absolutely. I use ap flour and bread flour interchangeably for my feedings (whatever I have on I hand, I use). Bread flour is higher in protein and absorbs more liquid than ap flour- that’s the main difference you’ll run into when feeding your starter. The overall texture will be slightly thicker. Totally fine.
Can this starter be used in bread machine?
Emilie Raffa says
I haven’t tested this myself. But I don’t see why not? If you experiment, please let me know :)
Yes, I have tried… all worked very well. Thanks for your recipe.
Emilie Raffa says
Fantastic. Great to hear, thank you!
I’m gluten intolerance,some I used oatmeal flour to do it with apple cider vinegar with the mother and it’s been 5 days that I started my sourdough starter and it double in size and it smells good just like you said,I saw in another post before I found this one that apple cider vinegar helps with the process of good bacteries
Emilie Raffa says
Great! I’m thrilled it’s working for you (and learn something new everyday!).
I read through this and at first was quite disappointed by Day 7… no rise, weird smell. So , I did a LOT more reading about starters and troubleshooting, including info from this site. I just want to mention a higher ratio such as 1:1:1 or even 1:2:2 and so on might be more helpful than ~2:1:1 as instructed here by Day 7. Yes, so very many variables that could affect how well thay works, but we learn that “feed, feed, feed” is the name of the game for those us struggling amateurs. Also when my jar was airtight, I got hooch production after every feed. I found that less-than-airtight along with a higher feed to starter ratio seemed to do the trick, after giving up on my first attempt after 1 week. I also realized 1 week is way too early to give up! Starters are apparently considered still quite young when <14 days old. There were several times, even when not airtight and with no visible hooch, that the mixture smelled strongly of acetone/nail polish remover and I would get disheartened. But I refused to give up again and realized this smell happened any time I did not discard before feeding = too many hungry yeast cells, but not spoiled! I kept mine in the same jar almost throughout my entire second attempt until around Day 12, then switched to a clean jar just because! It's finally rising actively here on Day 13 and so very full of bubbles with a more bready smell since discarding regularly, feeding AP flour twice daily, increasing my ratio to 1:1:1, using lukewarm to cool water only to avoid too much feeding activity too quickly, and expecting the process to take at least 14 days. I just want to give some hope to any other beginners who've read this wonderful place to start and know it may not go exactly as planned b/c there are so many variables! Thank you for all the fabulous details you post here, love having a beginner resource!
Emilie Raffa says
Thank you for sharing your detailed experience with us- very helpful. And most of all: encouraging. That’s the thing with sourdough, the process will be different for everyone because we are working with a living, fermenting thing! It’s something you cannot control, only observe, making changes that suit you best. Thanks again, Anita!