The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough stopped rising

lstamatov's picture

Sourdough stopped rising

Hi, everyone!

My first attempt at making my own sourdough starter was successful and I have been baking with it for several months now. It's always been very healthy and active and given the bread a good rise.

A few days ago I fed it the usual amount (I ususally use white flour for the starter) and put it in the fridge as I was going away for the weekend. When I came back I took it out and did not feed it as I was only gone for 1.5 days and figured it couldn't have eaten the flour that quickly because of the low temperature in the fridge. I should have probably fed it in the evening but I left it overnight and fed it around noon on the next day. There was a little crust on top of it, cause it's pretty hot right now, but I was not worried as this has happened many times in the past and all I had to do was scoop the crust and then feed the rest of starter. And that has always worked perfectly. The thing is, the starter stopped rising at all or responding to the feedings whatsoever. It's been 3 days now since I took it out of the fridge and I have been giving it 3 feedings a day and it has some normal fermented smell. It definitely doesn't smell foul, has no mold or anything visibly wrong with it but it just suddenly refuses to do anything. I have no logical explanation for this.

Has this happened to anyone of you? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


cranbo's picture

I know you feed 3x per day, but how much do you actually feed it, ie., ratio of saved starter to new flour to new water? Also, normally does your starter reaching full activity between feedings (ie., just starts to collapse, and you feed not long after tha?)

Have you changed flours, changed water or done anything different? I doubt that you could've killed your culture, but clearly something has changed. Could be some undesirable bacteria have grabbed hold. 

Here are a few tips:

Try feeding in a new, clean container. Could be your container has been contaminated with some undesirable bacteria, although I'd be really surprised if this was the cause. 

Try just feeding it 2x per day for 2 days, and see if that helps. Maybe you need to give your starter more time to build. 

If that doesn't help, you can separate out a bit of starter (say 2-3 tbsp), and try feeding it pineapple juice (instead of water) and flour for a few days. Check out Debra Wink's posts for the reasoning behind this. 



dwfender's picture

I second the pineapple juice. Or at least add some acid to raise the acidity level to help kill some unwanted nasties. 


Grenage's picture

Do the three feeds include discards?  You don't want to dilute a weak starter more than required.  Was it exposed to temperatures that might have killed the yeast?

All you can really do is keep feeding it, but I'd probably limit that to once a day, unless it looks devoured (or reeks).  It will pick back up, bacteria and yeast always win eventually.

lstamatov's picture

Well, I tried not discarding any of it the first day (except for that top crust) but then I thought it might be better to leave just 2 tablespoons inside and feed it 2 tbs of water and 3 tbs of white flour. I haven't changed the brand of the flour I use and I always use filtered water to feed it so I am really puzzled. Is it possible for me to have diluted it too much because it doesn't really smell that strong anymore?

@Cranbo: I also don't think it's some new bacteria, otherwise it probably would start reeking, right? And yes, normally my starter reaches full activity before I feed it. Will try putting it in a new jar, although I usually put my starter in a clean jar once a week.

@Grenage: I keep the starter in my kitchen where it gets pretty hot in the afternoon as it's facing west and there's direct sunlight for a long time. Apart from that, I haven't exposed it to high temperatures. Do you think the direct sunlight might have been too strong for it? The room is usually around 35 C in the afternoon, but I guess the sun makes some surfaces hotter.

Thanks for your responses. Will keep posting new information.

Grenage's picture

I imagine that a jar in the sun, in a 35C room could easily get quite a bit bit warmer.  While there's no doubt a different comort range for different beasties, higher than 35C is probably pushing your luck - perhaps those from warmer climates will chime in.

Try keeping your starter in the shade, and out of direct sunlight.

Ford's picture

Keep the starter out of the sun, 35°C is too hot for the yeast and a bit too warm for the lactobacteria.  I think you will need to cultivate a new starter.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

in a inhospitable environment.  

Take the oldest amount of starter you have, even an old discard and use it when cultivating your new starter.   Good Luck!

lstamatov's picture

Luckily, there'll be no need to start a new one. Last night I came back home and was happy to see some bubbling action. I had placed 2 jars of starter which I fed different proportions (just to experiment) in a shady place at about 25 C. They hadn't doubled in volume but there was definitely actvitiy in there and they had regained the usual smell. Then I fed them again and this morning they have already doubled, so I think all is well now. I should be more careful about exposing them to direct sunlight from now one. Also, I think that one of the problems was that, as Grenage suggested, that the starter was really weak from the fridge and from going one day without food and then I just fed it without doing any measurements and probably diluted it too much.

Thanks, everyone, for your responses!

PeterS's picture

you will have diluted your yeast/bacteria population down and then put them to sleep. When you remove them from the fridge, it takes a little time for the mass to come back up to room temperature where the bugs will wake up and start growing. If you did not give it a full 6,8, 12 hours (whatever is your norm) fermentation period, you are a little more behind. Keep doing this and you can see where you are headed. 35C is not going to kill baker's yeast (or maybe just a very few) but it will make them go dormant. Just like being to cold, you have to wait for the pot temp to go back down before they become fully active.

You recovery is consistent with this explanation. The biggest mistake most of us make with our starters is impatience when it's not doing what we expect.

Mini's suggestion is a good one for future reference. Also, it is a good thing to feed a starter, let it become very active and put it in the fridge when it is near or at peak.


placebo's picture

Also, it is a good thing to feed a starter, let it become very active and put it in the fridge when it is near or at peak.

I disagree with this. Research suggests refrigerating immediately after feeding is the best way to go.

The starter will still grow in the refrigerator, only more slowly. If doesn't make sense to refrigerate it after it's already used up most of its food. 

cranbo's picture

I agree that direct sunlight is bad for starter. If your room temp is 35C (that's 95F), then the temp in the sun is going to be much higher, and you might be killing your yeast. Yeasts used in baking are  light and heat sensitive; that's why they are stored in dark jars and in cool places to prolong life. 

Keep your starter in the shade. If you're trying to build yeast, optimum yeast production temp is around 26C; see for more details. 

I disagree with others, I don't think you'll need to cultivate a new starter though, those yeast and bacteria are surprisingly resilient, and will be refreshed by regular feedings. 

Try reserving a bit more for now, and feeding slightly more: 3 tbsp starter, 3 tbsp water and 4 tbsp flour. Keep it in a cooler place out of the sun. If it doesn't spring back in 2-3 more days, try subsituting the water for unsweetened pineapple juice for your feeds for a few days. 

cranbo's picture

Glad to hear that you worked it out!