The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

sourdough starter problem

qahtan's picture

sourdough starter problem

 Every so often I get this urge to make or try to make sourdough...... and every time I fail....

I have obtained all linds of starters, and many very kind souls have sent me some of theirs to get started.

 But always the same, after about 3 days it stinks like strong paint. so I dump it.

 I have tried different flours, different water, still the same, now what can I do...

Many many years ago I  did manage some how to get a decent loaf, how I don't know. but it was a long long time ago.....Any ideas...... qahtan 

ehanner's picture

If your starter smells like paint, it's sending you a message. If you keep your starter culture on the counter it needs to be fed/refreshed twice a day. Don't toss it because of the smell. I keep around 200 grams of starter fed at a ratio of 25g old starter/80 grams tap water and 100g AP flour. After a few days of feedings at RT it will be stable enough to refrigerate for a week between feedings. There are lots of ways to feed your culture but this way works and produces a well fed and robust culture.


cranbo's picture

after about 3 days it stinks like strong paint. so I dump it.

As Eric said, there's your problem. It goes through weird smelling phases at first, that's normal.

Building a healthy, working starter takes typically 7-10 days, feeding 2x per day after the first 5 days. 

Read Debra Wink's Pineapple Solution Part 2, it is an almost foolproof way to start a starter. That article provides detailed instructions in the last section of the original post. Good luck!

lumos's picture

Probably depends on chlorine level in tap water in your area, but tap water doesn't work for me, even it's filtered.  If I feed my starter with water straight from a tap, after several feeds, the starter gets weaker and weaker, starting to smell sharp...just like glue/paint. Either bottled spring water or if not, tap water boiled and cooled completely or tap water left for several hours (or even a day or two) without a lid to evapolate chlorine is safer option, I think.  Wild yeast is a bit more delicate than commercial yeast, it needs more TLC. ;)

varda's picture

Hi,  I have a regular wheat starter that I got going over a year ago so can barely remember, but recently I made a semolina starter for a particular bread.   It was very easy - I fed equal amounts semolina and water twice a day (small quantities around 20 grams of each per feeding) for 3 days, and very quickly had a working starter.   After you get a starter going you can convert to any type of flour you want. 

davidg618's picture


I bought a dried starter, from a reliable source, and followed the vendor's initiation instruction. After three days it smelled like spackling paste, and destroyed its gluten structure within a few hours of feeding it. I read Debra Winks Pineapple solution, both part 1 and part 2, but wasn't sure it fit my problem--I think, frankly, I was overwhelmed by the density of information in those two postings. Fortuneately, I wrote Ms. Wink, describing my problem. She not only replied, graciously convincing me my problem was classic, but, additionally, over the next four or five days guided me, step-by-step through recovering. Along the way, she also helped me gain much practical experience in the how and why of mature starter maintenance.

I've been baking with this starter for two weeks now, with great results. I've been baking sourdoughs for about three years; my old sarter was failing due poor maintenance (and I didn't know how to save it.). Making a new starter precipitated, for me, a worthwhile lesson, despite its initial "pain".

Here's the link to the beginning of my day-by-day exchange with Debra working toward a successful new starter. It might be of some help to you, in addition to her Pineapple Solutions 1 & 2. It's part of the long thread to the Pineapple Juice  solution part 1, and begins at this comment:

David G

jcking's picture

When building a new starter the wild yeast will multiply quicker when fed more air. To do this use a wet chop stick and stir every 3 waking hrs if possible for the first 4 or 5 days. The bacteria  doesn't need much oxygen so (without stirring) they can grow faster and one can end up with nasty smells and separation. A ripe SD needs a balance of wild yeast and bacteria.


FoodFascist's picture

have a look at this website. It's a bit wordy but has many tips, especially for beginners.

hope this helps

qahtan's picture

Thanks every one for your help....


When I do get a glorious sourdough loaf you will all know as I shall have to show you....


mila's picture


I've been reading this forum for a while now but have only just now signed up... because I have questions!!! I've been baking with packaged yeast up until now. But now I'd like to try doing sourdough bread and am trying to do my own starter. I am using Whole wheat Rye flour and water, in equal amounts. I saw many different options on how to do the starter and this seemed like the simplest.

At first I fed the starter twice a day and recently I've been feeding it once a day. I definitely see activity but I don't think it's enough. There are certainly bubbles, froth and the consistency is quite yeasty... but it has never doubled in size. I don't even think it grows much at all. Oh and it smells incredibly sour. 

The picture below is on aprox. day 10.  right after feeding.

Do you think it is alive? What do I need to make it thrive and have it be ready for baking?

Help please. Thx, Mila

cranbo's picture

It would be better to take a picture after 4-6 hours after feeding. It should double in size within 4-6 hours, if not, it's not strong enough yet, and you need to keep feeding it. 

Usually, the first 4-5 days or so you only need to feed 1x per day; you should switch to 2x per day towards the end of the build cycle (days 5-10) once the bacteria and yeasts are well established. 

Your starter looks pretty liquid, over 100% hydration. Consider feeding with flour/water to maintain a 100% hydration, which in your case might mean 50g rye, 50g whole wheat, and 100g water, by weight (not by volume). You'll see much more noticeable increases in volume with a 100% hydration starter.  

Also, if you plan on baking with regular white (wheat) flour, you'll want to start incorporating a little white flour into your feedings until at least 50% of your flour in your feedings is white flour. 

mila's picture

Thx for your reply. 

I won't bother posting a pic yet because clearly it's not doubling.

But I've altered the flour/water ratio and started to introduce some white flour. I'll also feed it twice a day as you recommended. I'll wait a few days and see how it goes.

Thx again.

cranbo's picture

just be patient with it, it will happen :) those little bacteria and yeast are stubborn and strong, once they get established they are VERY hard to kill.

keep us posted!

mila's picture

Thx Cranbo! I followed your advice and my starter is already doubling. I guess those critters were already there and just needed the right conditions...

Does anyone have a good recipe to recommend so that I can try out my starter? A good beginner's Sourdough? I've never done sourdough before and I'm a little lost with some of the Sourdough lingo ("soaker" and such). Unfortunately there's no Sourdough in the lessons tab :(

thx. Mila.

WILLOBIE's picture

I bake once or twice a week and have had a starter going for over a month.   I have gotten only a couple of passable, but heavy, loaves from it.  The bubbling is pretty weak, but there is a good sourdough smell.  To get some decent loaves I have tried adding a tablespoonful of dry yeast to the sponge after dividing it.  This helps, but the loaves are still on the heavy side.  It seems as if the sponge is inhibiting the yeast.  Is this possible?

Is it possible to get a sourdough bread to rise as well as yeast bread?  Should I pitch the starter and begin again?