Pocket worthyStories to fuel your mind

How to Make a Sourdough Starter From Scratch

Envious of everyone’s fresh sourdough bread that they're posting on Instagram? Here’s the recipe to get your own starter going.

Good Housekeeping

Read when you’ve got time to spare.

Sourdough starter in a jar

modesigns58//Getty Images

There are many advantages to baking your own bread. The yeasty smell of a loaf baking in the oven alone can make you happy. The process of slowly kneading and shaping dough also connects you to your food and can often be a meditative and much needed time away from your phone screen. Then there’s the obvious: Fresh, hot bread is delicious and beats a bag of the sliced stuff any day. While many types of bread only require flour, salt, and yeast, you’ll need a sourdough starter instead of yeast to make those crusty sourdough loaves that are appearing on nearly everyone’s Instagram feeds these days.

What is a sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water used to make sourdough bread that has been left at room temperature to ferment over the course of about a week. Throughout that period, the starter harvests yeast from the air around it. As you feed it with new flour and water each day, the yeast will start to multiply and create good types of bacteria and bubbles. Those bubbles are what will eventually be used to leaven—or give rise—your bread naturally without the help of commercially produced yeast. This fermented mixture is also what gives sourdough bread its signature tang. After the initial period to create the starter, it can be stored in your refrigerator and fed with more flour and water on a weekly basis indefinitely to keep the yeast and bacteria you created fresh.

How to make a sourdough starter:

Ingredients to begin

  • 1 cup (113 grams) whole wheat or rye flour
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) water (some will suggest bottled mineral water is best, but tap water also works just fine)

Ingredients to feed your starter

  • 1 cup (113 grams) all purpose flour
  • ½ cup cup (113 grams) water


  • A digital kitchen scale or measuring cups
  • A non-reactive container (glass, stainless steel, or ceramic all work) that can hold at least 1 quart, since your starter will need room to grow in it

The Picture Pantry//Getty Images

Day 1

Combine 1 cup (113 grams) of whole wheat or rye flour with ½ cup (113 grams) of water thoroughly in the non-reactive container. Leave the container out at room temperature (at least 70 degrees), uncovered, for 24 hours. It is important to let air circulate around the starter so it can capture natural yeasts in the air, but if you don’t want to leave it entirely uncovered, you can secure a layer of cheesecloth over the container with a rubber band.

Days 2 and 3

Discard half the starter (about 113 grams or ½ cup of the mixture). You’ll be discarding quite a bit of starter over the next few days, which you can either reuse to make pancakes or compost. To the remaining starter, add 1 cup (113 grams) all purpose flour and ½ cup (113 grams) water. Combine and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 4

You should notice some bubbles and will want to start feeding your starter every 12 hours now. Continue feeding by weighing out 113 grams starter, discarding the remainder, and feeding with 113 grams all purpose flour and 113 grams water. Mix, cover, and let rest for 12 hours before repeating again.

Day 5

Repeat the same 1:1:1 ratio of starter, flour, and water feeding every 12 hours. By the end of Day 5, you may have an active sourdough starter. A sourdough starter is ready to use when you see lots of bubbles on the surface and the mixture has doubled in volume. An active sourdough starter will also smell a little bit fruity or tangy.

If your starter hasn’t doubled in volume and is not bubbly, repeat the process of discarding and feeding every 12 hours until it does. The process often takes up to a week so continue feeding for a few extra days if it hasn’t doubled yet—patience is key here.

How to store sourdough starter:

Once you have an active sourdough starter that has doubled in volume, you can begin to store it in your refrigerator covered and reduce the feedings to about once a week.

Feeding your sourdough starter:

To maintain your sourdough starter, you should feed it at least once a week (even if you’re not using it to bake).

Before you bake with it, you must revive your starter first by feeding it (sourdough starter can’t be used straight from the fridge). The night before you plan on baking, remove the starter from the fridge and feed it with fresh flour and water, leaving it out covered at room temperature.

Either way, the feeding process is the same: weigh out 113 grams or ½ cup of starter and discard the rest. To the remaining mixture, add 1 cup (113 grams) all purpose flour and ½ cup (113 grams water). Mix and let rest covered until the mixture has doubled. Depending on the warmth of your house and how active your starter is, this could take as little as an hour or two, or up to 12 hours. If your house is a little chilly, you can speed up the process by keeping your starter in the oven with the light on. Be sure to leave a note to let people know not to turn the oven on and ruin your starter by baking it.

How to tell if your starter has gone bad:

If you’ve stored your starter in the fridge for a while, you may notice a clear liquid floating on the top of it. This is hooch, a naturally occurring alcohol that is harmless. Just be sure to pour it off before using your starter.

However, if your starter is growing mold, or has orange or pink streaks on the surface, it has gone bad and should be discarded. If your starter also smells bad—instead of the naturally tangy or fruity scent it had before—it’s also best to throw it out and start again.

What to make with your sourdough starter once it’s ready:

The obvious choice is a loaf of sourdough bread, but you can also find recipes online for everything from sourdough pancakes, to sourdough focaccia, to sourdough pretzels, to sourdough crackers. The best part about these other recipes is that they often make use of the discarded sourdough starter you’re left with when you feed it. King Arthur Flour is a great resource for recipes that use sourdough starter discard.


Paolo Paradiso//Getty Images

Where to buy sourdough starter:

If you’re overwhelmed or don’t have a week to go through the whole discard and feed process to get a sourdough starter going, you can also buy one online (we won’t tell!). King Arthur Flour sells its sourdough starter through its website and you can also find tons of options on Etsy. Some bakeries like Mr. Holmes Bakehouse in San Francisco also sell their own sourdough starters online to help home bakers do their own thing.

How was it? Save stories you love and never lose them.

Logo for Good Housekeeping

This post originally appeared on Good Housekeeping and was published May 12, 2020. This article is republished here with permission.

You love finding the best products for your money. So do we. Find out how to become one of our product testers when you join GH+ today.

Join Now