The Fresh Loaf

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Three starters died in a row - need help.

Xevus's picture

Three starters died in a row - need help.

My third attempt to start a started just ended as the two previos ones - in less than 24 hours my starters acquired extremely strong acetone smell. First, i've tried to make Nancy Silverton grape starter. Then i've tried pineapple juice receipe. The last was this one -

The chain of events is more or less the same - i reach the stage when the recipe says the starter is ready, then i refresh it, wait for 24 hours, take a batch to make a bread. And then the started starts to smell acetone in next 20-24 hours. Obviously, i'm doing something wrong, but i cannot figure out what, because i always follow the reciepe.

flournwater's picture

What type of container are you using to build your starter?

ehanner's picture

Let's start with the starter you are referring to as "Dead".

The acetone smell is a product of fermentation. I usually associate that smell with a starter that has been under fed. That could mean it hasn't been properly fed in the last 12 hours or it was allowed to sit in warmer than room temp and so the beasties ate all the available food.

I hope you didn't discard the starter. I'm confident it can be nurtured back to health. Until I hear otherwise, I'll assume you still have it. Let's start by forgetting about baking with your starter until it is stable and healthy, OK.

Start by discarding all but 1 heaping Tablespoon of the starter. Drop the approximately 50 grams into a container with 100g of cool water. Using a fork or chop stick, mix to create a slurry with bubbles on top. Now, add 100g of Bread Flour and mix to fully incorporate. Don't worry about the water temp being at room temp, just cold tap water is fine and maybe better for this purpose.

Keep an eye on the starter and watch how it is growing. I want to know how it looks in 4 hours, 8 hours and 12 hours. At the 12 hour point repeat the above feeding procedure exactly. Plan on doing this for a second day just the same as the first, regardless of how it smells.

If you can take some photos of the clear container you are using at the various 4 hour intervals, it would be helpful. Just side shots will be fine as close as you can focus using the Macro setting on your camera.

It won't take long and you will be making SD breads, once the culture is stable.


Edith Pilaf's picture
Edith Pilaf

because my now very active and successful starter acquired a strong acetone smell on about the 6th or 7th day in the beginning, but I just kept feeding it until the smell eventually gave way to the pleasant smell it now has.  This took about another 3 or 4 day.

LeahM's picture

I'm not an expert, but I have been nurturing my starter for almost 6 months now. About a month ago, it suddenly (for no apparent reason) did not double in the usual time, and started smelling fairly bad. Not acetone, more like dirty sock. I basically just kept refreshing it (similar technique as ehanner describes), letting it take as long as it needed to double in between feedings, and (trying to) ignore the smell. Eventually, my starter got back to its normal doubling time, and the smell also improved.

Coincidentally, the improvement happened just as I got frustrated enough to start a new starter--perhaps a bit of starter jealousy/competition was what was required? :) Now they're both fine!


korish's picture

I agree that the smell does not mean it's dead. I had a starter that I did not feed corectly and after a day it developed an ecetone smell, at that point i just corected the feeding and had the starter back on it's healthy way. So dont give up that fast, the little beasts that are inthere are not that easy to kill.

MommaT's picture


My starter has an acetone smell when it is underfed, usually languishing in the fridge for a week.  Gulp!

I resolve this very easily by bringing it out of the cold box, taking a very small amount (1 oz) and start refreshing it 2-3 times per day for 2 days.  These refreshes start with 1.5 - 2 times the weight in flour and water (i.e., 1 oz starter, 1.5 oz water, 1.5 oz flour).    I start very small so that (a) there is less of the original starter/smell and (b) I don't waste vast amounts of flour during this refreshing process. 

The other time I have experienced this is when I used chlorinated tap water regularly to refresh the starter.  I have now started buying very simple "spring water" from the store and the difference is phenomenal.  Prior to this I was letting tap water sit for a while (similarly to what one might do with fishtank water) and still the results were poor and I would find the acetone smell much more frequently/quickly.

Keep plugging away at the starter.  Refresh using a small portion of the existing starter and use water that is not chlorinated.    You'll have a healthy starter in no time!


VA Susan's picture
VA Susan


Don't give up. Keep feeding it as suggested above. The bottled water might just do the trick. Here's what finally worked for me. You could take a couple TBSPs of your discarded starter and try this if you feel like experimenting.

After three days of using whole grains and water to catch/feed the wild yeasts, I decided to try the Herman starter formula for feeding which is similar to the Amish starter recipe but with half the sugar. I fed 2 TBSP of the whole grain starter mixture with 2 TBSP Unbleached white flour, 2 TBSP milk and 1 TBSP sugar. I started seeing more activity soon after that. I saved a couple TBSPs of the starter every day and fed that and discarded the rest. As it got more active, I built it up more. I baked with it thirteen days later and it was able to rise the bread and had a good mild flavor which is what I was hoping for. I later turned some back to the flour/water starter and now keep both kinds going.