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You can make a starter for bread at home out of thin air! Learn how to make sourdough starter with this step-by-step recipe.

Don’t miss our recipe for the best sourdough bread in the world.

Stirring the starter

Are you looking to start baking sourdough bread at home? As part of our series How to Make Sourdough Bread (The Simplified Guide), we’re showing you how to make sourdough starter at home! A sourdough starter is essential for making sourdough bread. Though you can order one online or find one from a friend, why not make it at home? It’s simple and requires very little hands on time. Wait for 5 days, and you’ll have grown your own starter—out of thin air!

Buy it: To shortcut the process, you can buy a starter instead! We’ve tested this starter and it works well: Buy a sourdough starter

Watch the video to learn the process!

But first, here’s a video about the process. Watch Alex show you how to make this sourdough starter recipe!

Sourdough bread sliced

What is sourdough starter?

A sourdough starter, also called levain, is a fermented dough filled with natural, wild yeast and a bacteria called lactobacilli. The starter is what makes sourdough bread rise. Instead of using active dry yeast like in other bread recipes, sourdough bread uses a starter. Along with leavening the bread, the starter also brings that classic sour flavor.

A starter is literally full of life! There are 50 million yeasts and 5 billion lactobacilli bacteria in every teaspoon of starter dough. Sound weird? Actually, humans have been doing this for thousands of years; the process is as old as bread itself. For over 5,000 years, humans have mixed flour and water, waited for it to ferment, and then used it as leavening for bread. Ready to take part in the ancient practice of making a sourdough starter for yourself?

Interested in the science behind sourdough starter? Read more here.

Sourdough starter

Background on how to make sourdough starter

Making this sourdough starter recipe is a simple process. You simply mix together flour and water, and then wait, wait, and wait some more for the yeast and bacteria to do their thing! It’s a 5 to 6 day process that mostly consists of waiting. For our sourdough starter recipe, we use a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour to give the start a jump start. Once the starter is active and vibrant, we switch to all purpose flour for regular feeding of the starter.

And that’s right, we said feeding a starter! Since this little dude is alive, you’re going to have to feed him or her regularly. See our post on How to Feed a Sourdough Starter. You may want to give him a name too! (Ours is named Starty. Original, right?)

Scroll down to get our full recipe for how to make sourdough starter, below!

Loaf of sourdough bread

What you need to make your own sourdough starter

Luckily, you don’t need too many special tools for making this starter recipe. (Don’t worry, you’ll need special tools when we get to How to Make Sourdough Bread!) Here’s what you need for making sourdough starter at home:

Active sourdough starter bubbling

What to make with sourdough starter

One more thing before we get down to it: what can you make with starter? Homemade sourdough bread, obviously! Here’s our How to Make Sourdough Bread, complete with printable to make the process pretty simple.

Beyond bread, there are all sorts of things you can make with sourdough starter: pancakes, waffles, cookies, pizza crust, and muffins. Check out some uses here: Beyond the Loaf: The Many Uses of Sourdough.

Related posts

This post is one of three in our series on making sourdough bread:

Sourdough starter in a jar

This recipe is… 

This sourdough starter recipe is vegan, vegetarian, plant-based, and dairy-free.

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Sourdough starter | Best sourdough bread recipe | how to make sourdough starter

How to Make Sourdough Starter

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 days
  • Total Time: 5 days
  • Yield: 1 starter


This sourdough bread starter recipe shows how to make sourdough starter from scratch. No need to order online, you can make a starter for bread right at home!


  • Whole wheat flour
  • All-purpose flour
  • Room temperature filtered water


  1. Day 1: Use a kitchen scale to add 25 grams whole wheat flour, 25 grams all-purpose flour, and 50 grams of water. Stir to combine. The mixture should look like a thick paste. Cover the jar and place in a warm location for 24 hours. The temperature of your room can have a big effect on the speed at which your starter grows. Ideally, you want to be between 68 and 72 degrees. The starter will not flourish in cooler temperatures.
  2. Day 2: You may or may not see a few bubbles starting to appear in the starter. Either way, discard about half of the starter and add the same ingredients to the jar: 25 grams whole wheat flour, 25 grams all-purpose flour, and 50 grams of water. Stir to combine. Cover the jar and place in a warm location for 24 hours.
  3. Day 3: You will likely see a few more bubbles today. The starter should start to smell a little bit sour (in a good way!) Again, discard half of the starter. Today, you’ll switch to using only all-purpose flour. Add 50 grams all-purpose flour and 50 grams of water. Stir to combine. Cover the jar and place in a warm location for 24 hours.
  4. Day 4: You should see a lot more bubbles and the starter should increase in volume. Follow the same process: discard half of the starter. Add 50 grams all-purpose flour and 50 grams of water. Stir to combine. Cover the jar and place in a warm location for 24 hours.
  5. Day 5: The starter will be very bubbly and double in volume. It will have a funky sour smell that indicates the magic of sourdough is ready to happen! This starter is ready to use! Follow our instructions for feeding and maintaining a starter to keep it alive on the long term.


Depending on your room temperature conditions, it might take several more days of the same process to get the starter to be really bubbly and active!

  • Category: Baking
  • Method: Fermented
  • Cuisine: French

Keywords: Sourdough Starter, How to Make a Sourdough Starter, How to Grow a Sourdough Starter, sourdough starter recipe

Looking for more sourdough recipes? 

Once you’ve baked your first loaf of sourdough, there are so many ways you can enjoy it! A few of our fave sourdough recipes are:

Looking for more homemade bread recipes?

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you’ll want to make again and again.

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  1. I cannot wait to try this! Before I do, since we are measuring the starter ingredients by weight, do we discard half by weight, byvolume, or does it really even matter? Also, should you cover the starter with a lid if possible, or is plastic wrap better? I made a starter last year and only covered it with a tea towel, thinking exposure to the air would allow more of the natural yeast to be incorporated into it.

    1. Hi!

      I’ve grown a starter several times and have not found it to be too sensitive. I just discard about half the starter visually. Same thing regarding covering the starter; there should be plenty of yeast already existing in the air and the flour itself. I have found that you can get a lot of activity after day one or two, and then it settles down for a few days before becoming more regular around day 5. Have fun with it!

      1. Thank you!

        I have two more questions (for now). What is the best way to maintain a starter without starting over every time? Are there any alternatives to using the Dutch oven and the banneton?

      1. Hi,
        This is my 2nd try, and yhe starter on the 3rd day will start to have some fluid!! Is that OK? Or that means it’s bad and I have to discard it?

          1. So glad to read this. I’m housing the starter in the heated kombucha box that stays between 82 and 90. Day 1 it was very bubbly and doubled in size. Day 2 there was a large amount of watery fluid in the middle and smelt horrible. So I’m starting over again and now I will feed her again before bed.

      2. This was the most wonderful experience. Thanks só much. At the moment it is very cold, so I really strugled with my starter. On day 6 I decided to increase the temp to 28°c in that area. It made all the difference! It took me eventually 9 days to develop a healthy starter.By day 13 I have already baked 3 loaves. THANKS SO SO MUCH. Just one question, Can I leave my loaf in the duch oven the whole time? My oven has an uneven spread of heat?

        1. If you just remove the lid from your dutch oven, it will work, but you’ll likely have a very crusty bottom to the loaf.

    1. Weird! I’d try discarding all but about 1 tablespoon and trying again for a few more days. Sometimes they are just hard to get robust.

  2. On the night that you feed the dough before preparing to proof the next day is it correct that I mix
    1 tablespoon of the starter with the flour and water as it says in the instructions to then discard the rest but then would be out of starter. Need clarification. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi!

      The tablespoon you use to prepare the starter will make enough for the following day’s bread with some leftover to make more starter.

  3. After two days, it’s started to come alive. I have a reasonably warm kitchen which could be the reason why, so far, it seems to be growing. I’m using a small glass Kilner jar for now. But I’ll need something that’s a little safer to use, just in case the whole things starts to overflow. I’m rather concerned at the prospect of it exploding. My next thought is. What do I call it? As it’s a living thing. I need to give it a name. Has anyone else given their starter a name?

    1. Hi there, yesterday was day 5 of my starter. It had lots of volume, sour smell and bubbles. I discarded all of it but the 1 tablespoon and added the 50g of water and 50g of flour. This morning, no bubbles and no volume :( Is it because my house isn’t warm enough? If so, is there a way to save this batch? Or should I start a new one from scratch. Thanks!!

      1. It may just be temperature. The starter should be fine, just give it a little more time and it should gain strength.

  4. Today will be the 3rd try for me making starter. As a newbie .. should it be thin and runny? Should it smell like beer a little? Do I have to throw out half or can I add to it as I bake daily? Help? I cannot find answers anywhere… ?

    1. Hi! Yes, it will be fairly thin and runny and smell a little yeasty and funky in a good way. If you are baking with it daily, there’s no need to throw it out. If you are feeding the starting without baking, you will need to discard some or else you’ll have way too much! Good luck :)

      1. I’m guessing that the very first day it should be like a paste? I bought a brand new scale and weighed all ingredients and in my jar it’s paste….

        1. When you are first growing you say throw a little out…can you be more specific? I’m on day 3 but yesterday I fed it equal parts water and flour…I want continue correctly. Pasquale needs to be fed in 12 hours! Any help!? Lol

          1. Hi! I discard about half of the starter. You don’t need to be too specific.

  5. I give up… obviously I’m doing everything wrong in trying to make starter. 3rd try wasn’t the charm LOL

    1. It took me 21 days to have my starter rise (and double in size) for the first time! Everything I read said it would be ready in a week, or at the most, two weeks. Took me three weeks- I ALMOST gave up. Be patient! (I fed my starter 60 grams of filtered water and 60 I bleached all purpose four once a day ).

  6. I just bought a bag of Einkorn wheat flour (from an ancient, non-genetically modified type of wheat). Do you know of any reason why I could, or why I should not, use it for the all-purpose flour in my starter? I’ve never had much luck making starters, but I’m getting better at making bread since I got a scale sifter attachment for my Kitchenaid. Thanks!

  7. Cool! Thanks!
    How do I cover the jar, both initially and after it is ready to be kept in the fridge? Should I use cheesecloth, plastic wrap, something else, or nothing? Can the jar be sealed with a screw on lid or will it explode from the gasses in it while it’s still maturing at room temperature? Can it be sealed continuously while it’s living in the fridge? Can it be stored in a plastic container with a locking lid like Lock and Lock?
    Can the bits that are removed while you’re feeding the starter in the first few days be used for baking even if the starter isn’t really mature yet (like, could you throw it into a regular yeast bread recipe for flavor?) And, if I’m baking other yeast breads during the start up week, will my sourdough starter pick up those yeasts from the air in my kitchen?
    Sorry. I have a lot of questions…

    1. Hi!

      I generally cover loosely with a screw on lid — there’s plenty of yeast already on the flour and if you check every day you won’t get any gas buildup. You can store it in the fridge fully covered and secured.

      I think you could definitely add the discard starter to another recipes, but I haven’t tried it!

      Good luck!


      1. I had good luck using my discarded starter in an Irish soda bread recipe, because I hate to discard flour in this time of scarcity. (I collected the discards in the refrigerator for a few days.) I divided the weight of the discarded starter in half, and used that amount to reduce both the liquid and the flour in the soda bread recipe, since the starter is fed 50/50% flour & water, by weight (not volume!). Does this make sense? For example, if I wanted to use 100g. of discarded starter in a recipe, I would reduce the flour by 50 g. and the water or other liquid by 50 g. and then otherwise follow the recipe adding the starter with the liquid ingredients.

  8. Thanks again! I’ll follow your recommendations!
    PS. Your kid is so cute! I am also adopted, and, at 62, only discovered my birth family’s heritage last year. Turns out I’m Irish, so Erin Go Brah for St. Patty’s Day!
    Take care!

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