How to Revive a Sourdough Starter

I often have people tell me, “I killed my sourdough starter.” Or they ask me, “Did I kill my starter?”

The short answer is no, you probably didn’t.

Sourdough starters are actually very resilient. Read below how I advise people to revive a neglected sourdough starter and you can scroll down to watch a detailed walk through of me taking a sourdough starter that sat in my fridge neglected for a whole year through this reviving process!

How to Revive a Sourdough Starter:

You will need at least two jars or clean containers, water, all-purpose or bread flour, and a spoon. To revive the neglected sourdough starter, you will refresh it 3 times up to 5 times until the activity is back to what a healthy sourdough starter’s activity is like: doubles in volume in 6-12 hours, large bubbles, ripe fruit/slight sour smell during active period, a tablespoon floats on water. (To find out more about sourdough starters, you can visit this page: What is a Sourdough Starter?)

Refresh #1

  1. Get out a new jar or clean container.
  2. Use a spoon to scoop out a teaspoon to tablespoon amount of the old neglected sourdough starter and place in the new jar. (The old neglected sourdough starter can be thrown away.)
  3. Add 60g (1/4 c.) room temperature water to the jar with the teaspoon or tablespoon of old sourdough starter. Then add 60 g (7 T.) all-purpose or bread flour.
  4. Mix well until there is no dry flour left.
  5. Place top loosely on top of the jar then let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  6. After 24 hours you should see some activity–ideally it should be about doubled in volume with lots of bubbles.

Refresh #2

  1. Get a new jar (or clean container). And add a tablespoon amount of the sourdough starter.
  2. To the new jar add 60g (1/4 c.) room temperature water and 60 g (7 T.) all-purpose or bread flour.
  3. Stir the tablespoon of sourdough starter, water, and flour together. Mix well until there is no dry flour left.
  4. Place top loosely on top of the jar then let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Refresh #3

  1. Get a new jar (or clean container). And add a tablespoon amount of the sourdough starter.
  2. To the new jar add 60g (1/4 c.) room temperature water and 60 g (7 T.) all-purpose or bread flour.
  3. Stir the tablespoon of sourdough starter, water, and flour together. Mix well until there is no dry flour left.
  4. Place top loosely on top of the jar then let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. *

* Notes: If your sourdough starter is back to a healthy activity level, then I would advise trying to use it after 8-10 hours during the active period rather than waiting 24 hours. However, if it is showing signs of activity but not vigorous yet–it’s not bubbling very much or the rising in volume is still taking longer, wait the full 24 hours then do repeat the refreshing process two more times.

When would you declare it “dead”?

There are some occasions when I would advise someone to simply move on and either get some from a friend, purchase one (See some options for purchasing here), or make a fresh sourdough starter (See step by step instructions here: How to Make a Sourdough Starter or get my Sourdough Quick Start Guide here).

Here are situations for moving on from your starter:

  • If the container broke in some way, I would toss it completely. I’d rather not chance broken glass unless it was a survival situation. 😉
  • Even after 5 refreshing periods the starter isn’t bubbling or showing signs of activity.
  • If the starter smells rotten. A starter that’s neglected but still viable will have a layer of alcohol on top (sometimes called “hooch”) that smells strong like acetone but not rotten.
  • If mold is growing. However, if getting a new sourdough starter is too difficult or it’s a survival situation, I have seen sourdough baker take off the top layer of moldy sourdough starter then use a fresh utensil to take a core sample from the old sourdough starter to refresh and bring it back to life. Personally, I wouldn’t do this unless it was a desperate circumstance since I know people in the area who can give me a spoonful of healthy sourdough starter.

Bottom Line

Sourdough starters are truly amazing and resilient! Have you ever thought you killed one or successfully brought one back to life? I’d love to hear your story in the comments or you can send me an email. Or do you have follow up questions? I’d love to answer them!

For a more complete introduction to sourdough, check out my Sourdough Quick Start Guide here:

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