Is My Sourdough Starter Dead?

Wondering if your sourdough starter has kicked the bucket? Relax, it’s likely still hanging in there. Unless you spot mold, or it’s showing visible signs of pink or orange, your sourdough starter is not dead.

Even if there’s a layer of thick, dark-colored liquid on top, there’s hope – it can still be revived! One key indicator of life is the presence of bubbles, either on the surface or beneath.

If you see those bubbles, your starter is alive and kicking. You can then bring it back to its former glory by resuming regular feedings.

A sourdough starter is considered dead when it ceases to respond to routine feedings. In such cases, consistent refreshments are essential to revive its activity.

If it doesn’t appear dead but lacks noticeable activity, it might just be in a dormant state after consuming the added flour. Patience and regular feedings should help bring it back to life.

If you’re a sourdough baker who’s ever looked at their starter and wondered, “Is my sourdough starter dead?” fear not. 

I will go over the signs to look out for and how to tell if your starter is still alive and kicking or has indeed passed on. So, let’s dive in and find out how to diagnose the health of your sourdough starter.

Sourdough starters that don’t respond to regular feedings are dead. Hence, regular refreshments are necessary to bring the starter back to life. 

Mold or discoloration may also appear; if this happens, you may need to start over. Is your starter dead? Let’s investigate to see if it is.

How To Tell If Your Sourdough Starter Is Dead?

We can use a few tests to determine if a starter is dead. The way they work is shown below.

1. Take A Smell

One of the best ways to tell if a starter is healthy is to smell it. When a starter is ready to use, it will smell aromatic, slightly alcoholic, and possibly vinegary. You shouldn’t feel like you need to take a breath after smelling! 

There is a strong cheese smell, vomit smell, paint stripper smell, and stale socks smell when your starter has gone bad.

Your starter isn’t completely dead in this case, but it has a problem. Having a starter that doesn’t smell good just means it’s breeding the wrong kinds of bacteria.

Maintain a constant feed schedule and set the starter’s temperature between 25 and 34C to fix a foul-smelling starter. It will recover in a few days.

2. Review Activity After Feeding

Does it seem to be alive after you feed it? Do you see any bubbles, gas or a rise in the air? If not, it may simply be too cold. 

You can help it get going by placing it in a warm area. It is dead if there are no signs of fermentation activity, but the color is still normal. The most likely solution to this is to feed it regularly and to keep it warm.

3. Has It Been Baked

Only by heating them too hot can you permanently kill them – I did say they were resilient! Generally speaking, lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast become inactive when the starter reaches 60°C (140°F).

Be careful if you keep your starter in the oven! Many times, other family members have turned on the oven without checking what was inside! This can lead to your starter drying out before you realize it, requiring a restart.

4. Look At The Color

The development of unusual colors in starters, such as blue, pink, orange, or yellow, indicates the presence of nasty bacteria, and this is most likely mold. 

There is no doubt that your starter has died. Your starter most likely needs to be restarted if this happens; however, you may be able to revive it if you wish.

Use the best bits of the starter and refresh it with fresh flour and water. The good bacteria should be able to fight off the bad after a few days of regular rehydration.

You should wash your hands thoroughly after handling a moldy starter and avoid touching your face!

What Are The Signs That A Sourdough Starter Has Spoiled Or Gone Bad?

The best way to determine whether a sourdough starter is still viable is by observing whether it rises and falls after being fed with fresh flour and water. If it does, then the starter is still alive and active. 

However, an old and neglected sourdough starter may be sluggish and require additional time and care to fully revive.

On the other hand, if your sourdough starter has visible mold, it has unfortunately gone bad and should not be used. 

Mold on the sourdough starter will appear as fuzzy and raised spots, which can vary in color from white, yellow, green, blue, or pink. It may also grow on the sides of the storage container and on top of the starter itself.

Fortunately, mold is not a common occurrence on sourdough starters, especially on a well-established one. The beneficial bacteria and yeast present in the starter create acidic conditions that help to preserve it and prevent mold growth naturally. 

However, an old and neglected sourdough starter may still look and smell unappetizing, although it’s typically still alive and safe to use.

Is There Anything I Can Do About A Dead Starter?

To begin with, are you sure it’s dead? The starter might be alive, which means discarding most of it and adding fresh flour and water will revive it. 

Your starter will need to be thrown away if it has completely died due to getting too hot or moldy. 

In spite of this, I’ve always been able to fix a moldy or discolored sourdough starter. So far, I’ve only needed to do this a handful of times and I’ve always had 100% success!

Can You Save A Dead Sourdough Starter?

Reviving a sourdough starter is not a guaranteed process, but there are some tricks you can try. Firstly, ensure that it’s actually dead. Adding flour and lukewarm water can be a way to test if the starter is still active. 

If it shows signs of life, then there’s a chance you can revive it. If it’s too moldy, it might be best to discard it. The best course of action at this point is to build a new starter and maintain it well.

Is It Okay To Take A Break From My Sourdough Starter?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the daily task of maintaining your starter or if you’re planning to be away from home for a while, it’s okay to take a break. Placing it in the fridge after a hearty feeding is not an issue at all. 

Once you’ve refreshed it for a couple of days, you can use it for bread-making again. If you want to store it for more than a few weeks, you can freeze it or dry it out.

Is A Starter Better Frozen or Dried?

If you’re considering ways to store your sourdough starter for an extended period, drying it out can be a highly effective method. 

Properly dried and stored, it can last a long time, providing a reliable backup in case anything happens to your primary “mother” starter. 

Although the process of drying the starter requires some effort and a dry storage location, the benefits are undoubtedly worth it. 

For added security, I suggest drying multiple starters every three to six months to ensure that your backup remains intact and undamaged.

What Won’t Kill My Starter?

Sourdough starters are commonly associated with several myths. Some of the most frequently mentioned ones are:

  • There is no need to worry about killing your starter if you switch to whole meal flour (or another flour) just give your starter a few days to adjust.
  • You can use non-organic flour without killing your starter.
  • You can stir it with a metal spoon or place it in a metal bowl without killing it.
  • Your starter will not die if it’s frozen.

What If My Sourdough Starter Never Rises?

It may be the water if you follow a reliable sourdough starter recipe but don’t see bubbles or any other sign of activity. 

Will Tap Water Kill My Starter?

In a sourdough starter, water is an essential ingredient. Water from the tap is fine for drinking, provided it has been tested for safety. However, tap water can be heavily chlorinated in some areas. 

It removes not only bad bacteria, but also good bacteria. You can remove chlorine from water by letting some water sit for a while and letting it evaporate. As long as it has a few microorganisms, it can be used to start the starter.

Having fewer microorganisms means a lower level of activity in the water. As a result, the starter takes a long time to rise. Consider using bottled water instead of tap water if you are still having trouble getting your starter to work.

How Long Until The Sourdough Starter Dies?

The amount of time that a sourdough starter will remain active depends on how frequently you feed it. With daily feedings and proper care, it can stay active for up to two months.


Caring for a sourdough starter is no easy feat. It requires patience, dedication, and a bit of trial and error. But with the right techniques and a keen eye, you can easily determine whether your starter is still thriving or has gone to the great bread basket in the sky. 

Remember, sourdough starters are resilient, and with a little love and attention, you can often revive them from seemingly dire situations. So, don’t be afraid to experiment, try new things, and most importantly, have fun on your sourdough baking journey. Happy baking!

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