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Is there a chemist in the house? Question re chloramine

susanfnp's picture

Is there a chemist in the house? Question re chloramine

Over the past few days I've been trying an experiment, getting a couple of starters going. One uses the bottled water I always use (the control), and the other uses water straight from the tap -- city water treated with chloramine. I turned off our water softener to eliminate whatever effect that might have. I use the microwave on both waters to heat them to 85F.

Both cultures are doing just fine. Initially (I'd say during the "leuconostoc phase") the bottled water starter was yielding a faster-fermenting culture, but after about 36 hours that disappeared and now the tap water culture seems to have a very slight edge (this may not even be significant, attributable to the inevitable lack of precise control in the "home lab"). They both smell about the same. At 4 days, they are both doubling in under 12 hours.

My conclusion is that the chloramine in the tap water does not seem to be adversely affecting the yeast in the culture. This is not what I expected.

I know that ascorbic acid breaks down chloramine. I'm wondering whether the acetic and/or lactic acid in the culture might be doing the same thing? I don't know enough about chemistry to understand whether it's the acidity per se or something else about the ascorbic acid that's the critical factor.

Any chemists out there who can shed some light on this?



susanfnp's picture

Well, my question above may be moot from a pragmatic standpoint (although I'd still like to have the answer, if anyone knows).

I made two small simple straight-dough loaves, identical except one with tap and the other with bottled water. They were indistinguishable in terms of rising time, appearance, texture, and taste. Now it could be that the chloramine does adversely affect yeast (in this case, instant yeast) but the super-hardness of our tap water compensates for that. In any case, the chloraminated tap water worked fine. Who knew?


charbono's picture

Not sure if I understand your posts.  Chlorine and chloramine are supposed to have minor effects on yeast and significant effects on bacteria.



Janedo's picture

I don't know what's in our water, but your post is interesting. I'll stop off at the town hall to ask. I have always used our tap water because it was so delicious! But for about six months it has been stinking like treatment. I use a filter for drinking but never change waters for the starter. The new smell NEVER damaged the starter and I have made a few more since (from scratch). They all took off with no problems. And I use it to make bread.

I can't give you and knowledge on the scientific side, just my personal experience. Since we are always given advice to use bottled spring water (not mineral) it's interesting to know that that doesn't always have to be the case and it's worth testing because it isn't good to buy bottled water (on an ecological level I mean). Plus, it's so much easier to just open the tap!


Wild-Yeast's picture

Bread books are full of apocryphal warnings but are short on spelling out limits of using treated water outside it's probably alright to use once the culture is established. Now what does that mean and how or when will you know what constitutes established? Well it froths with gelatinous bubbles and smells like buttermilk. Uh, Yeah...,

I use filtered water that has been boiled for 10 minutes and allowed to cool to room temperature. The fact that the sourdough ferment is on the hull of the grain berries should provide a clue as how to proceed. First use fresh organic whole wheat flour. An organic wheat is fairly certain to contain these agents. What you don't want to do is to have any agents which interfere with the growth of these natural agents in the water-flour medium. As a matter of fact the Jewish dietary laws, The Kashrut, maintains that watered flour must exist no longer than 18 minutes outside the oven to still be considered unleavened bread. I had problems with starters using unbleached flour but had some success with whole wheat and absolute ignition with whole wheat organic flour. Use only clean, near sterile, containers to insure the infection that you're propagating is the one on the wheat and not from some other source within your kitchen. My house is loaded with wine, beer and lactobacillus cultures from other arts of fermentation and it is certainly a risk if you have similar circumstances (the noble rot).

The starter will adjust to your local conditions after repeated feedings. Try to maintain the same feeding circumstances to keep the culture within your established taste range. Change the flour and your starter will react to the change in various ways. Just like a pet it has it's own particular personality.

One last item is that I test each new lot of flour by making a test starter from it. It's sort of an incoming quality assurance inspection program that has worked well for me.

And yes, you can use chlorinated or chloramine tap water once you have a well established and stable starter culture. Just get a faucet filter and boil the filtered water before using it for starters...,

Sorry for the long of it...,


susanfnp's picture

charbono, I didn't do a great job of articulating, did I?

I have alway been under the impression (correct or not) that chlorine/chloramine would have a negative effect on yeast. Therefore I have always used bottled water in my doughs and starters (I have successfully raised starters from scratch several times). As Janedo points out, bottled water is not great from an environmental and convenience standpoint, nor from a financial, and probably health, standpoint.

So I'd been thinking of running a few experiments to see how my tap water held up in comparison to my usual bottled, and when a heat wave hit us last week I jumped to do an experiment in starter-raising, because warm weather has always given me excellent results with that and I didn't want to waste the opportunity.

I was surprised to see that the tap water (unfiltered, unboiled, un-anything except microwaved very briefly to warm it) was giving better results than the bottled, and I was curious why. Because I had assumed (again, correctly or not) that the chloramine would sicken the yeast, my first thought was that somehow the chloramine had been rendered inactive.

I got to wondering how that could happen, and I thought maybe it's the acidity of the culture -- hence the question in my first post. It would be a fair question to ask why the chloramine wouldn't kill the acid-producing bacteria in the culture, but for whatever reason it doesn't appear to have done so -- the culture is plenty acidic. I suppose it would also be fair to wonder whether microwaving destroyed the chloramine.

Now right after I posted the first time I did another experiment, with dough not using any preferment at all -- again with the tap water performing just as well as the bottled. I concluded from this that acidity is not necessary to mitigate whatever (if any) ill effect chloramine has upon yeast. That's what I was trying to say in the second post.

The conclusion I'm drawing so far, with a few more experiments pending, is that my tap water seems to be fine to use. I'm not drawing any conclusions about the reasons why that is, but I'd still like to understand the science better if anyone can shed any light.

Janedo, one's personal experience trumps scientific theory, so thanks for sharing yours.

Wild-Yeast, that's very interesting about the 18 minutes.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Fasten your seat belts, this is gonna be long.....


We like to think of the stuff coming out of our taps as pure water, ready for drinking and use. And for most people reading this, that is largely true.


In older days, water was untreated and often unsafe. My wife lived in Italy and the last thing she'd do before going to bed was run off enough water to make coffee and brush her teeth the next day. In the village where she lived, you went to the town square at the start of the day to read the sign that told you if the water was safe to drink, safe to bathe in, or just good to flush commodes with.


I'm glad that's not my water issue. I'd rather face cancer in 40 years than dysentery today.


But, still, I'm a baker. And I want to make good bread. And I've been seeing water can help, or hurt me.


I'll summarize my recent findings. I'll play with them a bit more and then post 'em on my web page under the discussion of water in Know Your Ingredients.


Chlorine is used to purify water. It is short lived and will clear out of water if it is allowed to stand overnight or boiled for a few minutes. Most filters will not remove chlorine.


Chloramine is a mix of chlorine and ammonia. It is used because it is more persistent than chlorine. This is good for use in longer piping systems. Think big cities. Or cities that are far from their water supply. Chloramines will not dissapate upin standing or boiling water, and more filters will not remove them.


Some reverse osmisis filters can remove both. Check your filter documentation.


Both chlorine and chloramines can produce off tastes in your water as they interact with (or kill) critters in the water. Filters can remove the off tastes and make water much more palatable. However, the off tastes do not seem to transfer to bread.


There have been some annecdotal reports that chlorine and chloramines can cause problems for bakers, especially sourdough bakers. However, in each of these reports I have had reason to doubt the methodology of the person doing the tests. I've never had problems I could trace to chlorine or chloramines, nor have the people who have done tests here. Starters start, and starters can be maintened, on chlorinated or cloramined water.


pH balance. Pure water has a neutral pH, which chemists and physicists say is 7.0. Lower numbers maan a substance is acidic, and a hogher number indicates the water is alkaline. However, water is bi-polar and pure water will dissolve almost anything it comes in contact with until it can dissolve no more of it. If the water passes through alkaline rocks, the water becomes alkaline. If the water passes through acidic rocks, it becomes acidic. In general, dough prefers to be made from somewhat acidic water. Alkaline water can be an issue and cause doughs to be soft and weak. Using sourdough can help offset this, as sourdough will acidify the water.


Mineral content. Water will dissolve almost anything it comes in contact with. Water often picks up different mineral salts. If it picks up lots of salts, we call the water "hard water." If the water is free of the mineral salts, we call it "soft water." As with most natural systems, what come out of your tap lies on a continuum between soft and hard. Most water in the United States is hard or very hard, having 50 to 150ppm of dissolved mineral salts in it. Some water systems, such as the one I am using, are soft. Very hard water reduces dough extensibility. Very soft water reduces dough cohesion - or the dough doesn't come together.


Some water systems are variable. Like the one I have supplying my house. The pH ranges from neutral (7.0) to quite alkaline (9.0+). The mineral content is normally in the very soft 25 to 35 ppm range, but can go as low as 3ppm or as high as 125ppm. This sort of difference is one reason some people have trouble getting their processes under control. Yeah, you carefully weighed your ingredients, but the results aren't the same. As someone around here put it, "the water seems wetter today."


Worse, checking the local water with test strips shows that a R/O filter does nothing to change the pH of the water, nor the mineral content. Since we don't have one here, it isn't clear to me at this point if water softeners remove enough of the minerals dough needs to be a significant issue.


So, my suggestion on the water front is currently: use tap water if you can. If you can make good bread with your local tap water, thank your prefered diety for your good fortune. If you think you have water problems and you have a water softener, check your softener to make sure it's running correctly and then try some untreated water.


If you have what seems to be water issues and you don't have a water softener, or if your softener seems to not be the problem, try using bottled water. When I used bottled water, it seemed all my baking issues went away. Without plugging the brand, I am using Ozarka Spring Water. I'm not happy about the matter, but I think I see a water dispenser in my future. The bread is worth more to me than the satisfaction of fighting the water issue until I win. The seasonal variations are what I see killing me here. I'll have it under control and then the water will change. This way, it's Ozarka's problem.


If you have water issues, call the water department that services your area and tell them you're interested in the pH and hardness of your water, finding out how it's treated, and what seasonal variations you can expect. Some communities are on lake water for part of the year and well water for the rest. They will tell you that there are bakeries all over town who aren't having trouble with the water! Well, maybe, ask the bakers what they are doing. Often the bakers are using par-baked goods that were made in San Francisco or Boise.

Hope this helps clarify the many issues floating on top of the water pitcher,



susanfnp's picture

 Mike, thanks for the reminder that there are a whole bunch of water factors that can influence the bread, and chlor(am)ine may be the least of them...

Anyway, bottom line is, as you say, does your tap water work, or not? I'm hoping to continue to find that mine does, at least for now. 


Wild-Yeast's picture

Performed a little more research into whether chloramines can be removed with filters and the firm answer is "sort of". The filter stack has to consist of activated charcoal and reduces the amount of chloramine by 80-85% (Pur faucet filters).

A small amount of Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid will neutralize chloramine as described here:

So the addition of Vitamin C to some of the starter recipes may actually serve this purpose...,