How to make your own sourdough starter: the path to great bread

Have you ever wondered how to make your own sourdough starter?

Whether it conjures up a crusty, flavorful loaf of bread or a bubbling crock of flour/water starter, sourdough is a treasured part of many bakers’ kitchens.

But where does the path to sourdough bread begin? And how do you start?

Start in your own home kitchen. And begin by learning how to make your own sourdough starter.

First, a word of advice. Sourdough baking is as much art as science. This method for making sourdough starter isn’t an exact match for the one you read on another site, or in a cookbook, or in your great-grandma’s diary.

If you have a process you’ve successfully followed before, then hey, stick with it. Or try this one and compare. All good.

A sourdough starter includes five key ingredients: flour, water, time, patience, and love. Click To Tweet

OK, ready? Let’s go.

The following timeline assumes you can find a relatively warm place (68°F to 70°F) to grow your starter. More on that below.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

How to make your own sourdough starter, day 1

Combine 4 ounces (1 cup) whole rye flour (pumpernickel) or whole wheat flour with 4 ounces (1/2 cup) non-chlorinated cool water in a non-reactive container. Glass, crockery, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic all work fine for this.

Note that whole grain flour (whole wheat or rye) is used at the beginning of the process. This is because whole grains contain more nutrients and sourdough-friendly microorganisms than all-purpose flour.

You also may have better results if you feed your starter with non-chlorinated cool water; from now on, we’ll refer to this simply as “water.”

Stir everything together thoroughly; make sure there’s no dry flour anywhere. Cover the container loosely and let the mixture sit at warm room temperature (about 70°F) for 24 hours.

A note about room temperature: the colder the environment, the more slowly your starter will grow. If the normal temperature in your home is below 68°F, we suggest finding a smaller, warmer spot to develop your starter.

For instance, try setting the starter near a baseboard heater, or atop your water heater, refrigerator, or another appliance that might generate ambient heat. Your oven, turned off but with the light on, is another option, as is setting the container of starter on a folded dish towel laid atop a heating pad on its lowest setting.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

A temperature-controlled bread proofer is the absolute ideal solution; if you bake lots of yeast bread, you might consider investing in one of these tools.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Day 2

You may see no activity at all in the first 24 hours, or you may see a bit of growth or bubbling. Note that this starter looks fairly inert when viewed from up top.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

But when viewed from the side, you can see bubbles starting to form under the surface.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Either way, discard half the starter (4 ounces), and add to the remainder 4 ounces (a scant 1 cup) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and 4 ounces (1/2 cup) cool water (if your house is warm); or lukewarm water (if it’s cold).

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Mix well, cover, and let the mixture rest at room temperature for 24 hours.

Note: Why do you need to discard half the starter? It seems so wasteful…

Well, it’s necessary for three reasons. First, unless you discard, eventually you’ll end up with The Sourdough That Ate Milwaukee – too much starter. Second, keeping the starter volume the same helps balance the pH. And third, keeping the volume down offers the yeast more food to eat each time you feed it; it’s not fighting with quite so many other little yeast cells to get enough to eat.

Also, you don’t have to discard it if you don’t want to; you can give it to a friend, or use it to bake. There are quite a few recipes on our site using “discard” starter, including sourdough pizza crust, sourdough pretzels, and my all-time favorite waffles.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Day 3

By the third day, you’ll likely see some activity – bubbling; a fresh, fruity aroma, and some evidence of expansion. The somewhat darker hue your starter got from its whole wheat beginnings will fade as you continue to feed it with all-purpose flour. It’s now time to begin two feedings daily, as evenly spaced as your schedule allows.

For each feeding, weigh out 4 ounces starter; this will be a generous 1/2 cup, once it’s thoroughly stirred down. Discard any remaining starter.

Add 4 ounces (a scant 1 cup) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, and 4 ounces (1/2 cup) water to the 4 ounces starter.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Mix the starter, flour, and water, cover, and let the mixture rest at room temperature for approximately 12 hours before repeating.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Here’s the starter after its 12-hour rest. It may actually appear to be bubbling less than it did initially; this is normal.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Days 4, 5, 6…

Repeat two-a-day feedings on days 4, 5, and as many days as it takes for your starter to become very active — almost foamy. If your starter is in cool surroundings, you may find it takes up to 2 weeks (or perhaps even longer) to get going.

When it shows a markedly different type of bubbling, though, it’s just about ready to use.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

When you stir it down and feed it this time, make a note of how high it comes on the bowl or jar. You’ll know it’s ready to use in baking when it doubles in size in about 4 to 6 hours. You’ll see lots of bubbles; there may be some little “rivulets” on the surface, full of finer bubbles.

Also, the starter should have a tangy aroma – pleasingly acidic, but not overpowering.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

When it gets to this point — doubling in size in 4 to 6 hours — give it one last feeding. Discard all but 4 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup). Feed as usual. Let the starter rest at room temperature for 4 to 8 hours; it should be active, with bubbles breaking the surface.

Remove however much starter you need for your recipe (no more than 8 ounces, about 1 cup); and transfer the remaining 4 ounces of starter to its permanent home: a crock, jar, or whatever you’d like to store it in long-term. Feed this 4 ounces of starter with 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water.

How to make your own sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

Let it bubble and become active for several hours before covering it and placing it in the refrigerator.

But wait — what if things haven’t gone exactly according to schedule?

No worries. If, after a week, your starter isn’t ready, don’t lose heart; keep feeding it regularly, and it will gain strength — really!

Be patient. The conditions in your kitchen may be more or less conducive to building a starter, depending on room temperature, the season, humidity, or how much you’ve been baking.

Remember, the keys to developing a successful starter are using good (unbleached) flour; having a consistent feeding schedule, and ripening (growing) the starter in an environment that’s adequately warm (at least 68°F, and preferably in the 70s).

Grape sourdough starter via @kingarthurflour

When your starter is strong enough, it’s time to go ahead and make your favorite sourdough bread.

Good luck! And enjoy.

Want something printable to follow? See our recipe for Sourdough Starter.

Next: maintaining your starter.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Debra! Sprouted Wheat Flour is interchangeable with our regular whole wheat flour, so you can certainly use it to get your starter going. If you’d like to feed it with Sprouted Wheat Flour forever, you’ll find you have to add additional water to get the starter to have the consistency of thick pancake batter. Annabelle@KAF

  1. Emilee

    I have been reading and trying everything to get my starter to keep going. I have a couple different experiment jars currently. Do you just recommend using whole wheat on the first day and then switching to unbleached all purpose for the rest?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Emilee, you’re welcome to keep using whole wheat if you would like to (or rye, which starters also love)! We suggest switching over to all-purpose primarily because it is less expensive and more accessible to the average home baker. Either way works, though! Kat@KAF

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Emilee! We’re happy to let you know that we have a super helpful and thorough Sourdough Guide on our wesbite. (Bookmark it now — it’s awesome!) We generally start with either whole wheat or whole rye and then feed it with all-purpose after that initial feeding, but you’re welcome to use whole wheat for other feedings if you want to. Sometimes if a starter is sluggish, a feeding that’s half whole wheat or whole rye can help perk it back up. Check out that guide for tons of tips, visuals, and an extensive FAQ’s page. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Sue

    I’m on day 5 and feeding twice a day every 12 hours. I havent he oven light on and it forms a light crust on the top that I discard before feeding. I haven’t seen any bubbles on the surface is this normal? I live in MI and we are in a deal freezes and house temp goes from 65 degrees at night to 68 degrees during the day, how long until I see something?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sue, it sounds like your starter is just a bit of a late bloomer! Like all living critters, yeasts grow up when they’re ready and not when we’re ready for them. Just keep feeding and discarding regularly, and you should see results within another week or so. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s a really interesting question, Jessica! We don’t have any personal experience with a 100% whole spelt starter, but as a whole-grain flour, we’d treat it just like you would would whole wheat. Start with equal amounts flour and water by weight, and see how your starter does. If it seems like you need more or less water to get a pancake batter-like consistency, adjust your amounts accordingly. Good luck with your sourdough experiment! Kat@KAF

  3. Rosti

    I am not interested in sourdough bread. Is this the same method for developing a starter for “French” bread? Like a baguette?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Rosti. It sounds like you might be talking about a French levain or poolish, used in baguettes, Pain au Levain, and many more French breads. These are generally a combination of sourdough starter, flour, and water that you let sit overnight before making your dough. Some are made with just flour, water, and a touch of yeast. Annabelle@KAF

  4. Heather

    When the starter is in storage is it immediately ready to use in a recipe? Or do you need to feed it first and wait for it to rise, then use in a recipe?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Heather! When removing your starter from the fridge, it will need one or more feedings to get it ripe again. Depending on how vital your starter is and how long it’s been in the fridge, you may only need one feeding to get it to the point where it doubles in 4 to 6 hours. If it’s been in the fridge for a while, it could take two, three, or more feedings to get it ripe and ready to bake with again. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  5. Gwen

    Is there any way of doing a half recipe of this? or will the proportions be off? 2 cups a day seems like a lot of flour


    Why do you place the remaining starter in the fridge? Can that starter hold (without being feed) in the fridge for a certain about of time? I thought you would just keep the rest leftover and keep feeding it at room temp, or is that starter now too old for more feedings?

    Hope my questions make sense!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Michelle. If you don’t plan on baking with your starter every day or every other day, storing it in the fridge slows down the fermentation so you only need to feed it once a week rather than every 12 hours. Check out our Sourdough Guide for step by step instructions, tips, and advice. Annabelle@KAF

  7. Geri

    You list 1 cup as 4 ounces and 1/2 cup as 4 ounces in your starter reciepe. Ic.= 8oz, 1/2 c= 4 oz. Imperial measurement.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Geri! A cup of flour weighs about half that of a cup of water, so a cup of flour weighs 4 ounces while a full cup of water weighs 8, so you only need 1/2 cup of water to equal those 4 ounces by weight for an even ratio. We hope this helps! Annabelle@KAF

    2. Lori Kasenter

      The difference is volume measurement vs. weight measurement. By volume, 4 oz of flour occupies a one-cup measuring cup, but 4 oz water only occupies a half-cup measuring cup. By weight, both weigh the same.

      Using a kitchen scale will give the most accurate measures. Thank you KAF, for always offering the option of saving/printing a recipe with measurements in ounces.

      (Side note to Annabelle: you mean “A cup of flour weighs about half that of a cup of water,” right?)

    3. Nan

      …just add to the confusion of weights and measures….
      Re-read your response to Geri and laugh.

  8. Dael Bartlett

    My starter is 4 days in and seems to be doing well, but I am a real fan of whole meal bread. Is there any reason I should not try a 50/50 whole meal / all purpose starter. I was thinking of trying that next time I divide my starter to feed it.


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