The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter won't grow

Audj's picture

Starter won't grow

I have been feeding my starter and it just won't grow. It gets all bubbly, has an interesting smell (a bit like nail polish remover), and it looks healthy. It just won't grow. I tried using rye flour and still nothing more than bubbles. I have been feeding with a 1:1:1 ration by weight. I know it is not dead because I did have a successful rise a couple of days ago, but it took nearly 24 hrs for it to double. Then I fed it again and got nothing.


What should I do??

flournwater's picture

Two things come to mind.  First, are you leaving some venting space between the container and the lid to allow excess CO2 to "boil" off?  As the CO2 increases, so does the internal pressure in the container and it can sometimes get strong enough to interfere with growth of the starter's mass.

Second, what temperatures are you working at?  Temperatures, humidity and available food (as well as waste alcohol contaminants) can retard your starter.  Also, a new starter can sometimes take quite a while to become lively so be patient.  I'd also suggest  you increase your feeding ratio.

If you haven't read this thread

take a few minutes to review it and compare your processes/results with what this author has to offer.

SnDBrian's picture

That nail polish remover is probably a sign that something unsafe is in your starter, but not always. Trying feeding your starter more often 2-3 times a day. The smell should discipate and rising should occur.

If you have no signs of life you can always *dare i say* start over.


bobbywilson0's picture

Bump the ratio to 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water). The smell makes me think it's a hungry starter. Bubbles mean that it is trying, I would do some aggressive feeding, twice/thrice a day. I wouldn't throw out your starter, if anything you will better understand how starters work through this.

Relax don't worry, have a homemade slice (my newly adapted saying)

JessicaT's picture

Some advice I was given by Mini Oven is to watch your starter and keep track of when it max's out its rising time and when it starts to collapse. I found that as soon as the starter finished collapsing was the best time to feed to keep it nice and strong. What I noticed was eventually, it was strong enough that it would double/triple in size every 4-6 hours. 

Audj's picture

Thank you for the advice. I started feeding the starter more often (twice/day) and a higher ratio (1:2:2). The last 2 times I fed the starter finally doubled, but it took a full 12 hours to do so. I would think that if I continue this regimen it should start doubling sooner.

How, though, do I know when the starter is ready to bake with? I'm understanding that the starter should double in 6-8 hours for it to be strong enough to raise bread. Is this correct?

Also, can anyone suggest a good beginners recipe for sourdough bread to try? Something easy to understand (lol, I am a TRUE noobie! :)  )

Who would have thought that I was such a patient person? This starter is nearly a month in the making!

Davo's picture

If it's bubbling it's making CO2. If it's not doubling it may just be that the bubbles are escaping! A 100% starter is pretty thin, and it may be that it was always producing CO2 just fine, and only at times has had enough structure to hold the CO2 in and thus expand.

Yumarama's picture

Susan's Norwich Sourdough

Somewhere on this site there's also Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough the Norwich is based on.

Both are excellent recipes and not too complex. Pick one, then do it a whole bunch of times so you really get the hang of it and see how it behaves. Your baby starter will also change over the next while so it's effect on the bread, both in it's action and taste, may be different over time as well.


I'm sorry but I must disagree that a 100% hydration starter is too thin to hang on to the bubbles. There's absolutely no problem with 100% starter, it can expand just fine, as would be attested to a huge number of people who use one all the time.

But don't take my word for it, check for yourself: take 50g of flour and 50g of water and mix them up, that's actually rather thick stuff. It's not going to let gas bubbles go too easily at all.



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