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Can You Overfeed A Sourdough Starter

A sourdough starter is not complicated or hard to keep alive. Its basic needs to survive are food, oxygen, and to be held at the right temperature; these are important for it to grow, be healthy, and have a rich flavor. 

It is possible to overfeed your sourdough starter, which can happen when fed too often or fed too much flour and water at each feed. If you have overfed it, its existing microorganisms and yeast can diminish, leading to a diluted starter of low quality and a bland flavor. 

It is essential to consider the amount of food you feed your starter at each feed and how often you feed it. You can tell if you have overfed your starter by identifying specific signs. The amount your starter is fed depends on where it is stored and if it is being prepped for baking or not.  

How To Prevent Overfeeding

There are a few rules and principles that you can follow to prevent overfeeding your starter. One of the main things to focus on is how much food you are giving and how often you are feeding. 

How The Storage Temperature Affects How Often It Fed

How often you feed your starter will depend on whether it is stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator. If your starter is kept at a room temperature of 68–72°F (20–22°C), it will need to be fed more often; you should feed it every 12 to 24 hours.

The time between feeds needs to be longer when the weather is colder than room temperature. If your starter is kept in a warmer climate, it will need to be fed more often because it will process the nutrients much quicker. 

When deciding to keep your starter in the refrigerator, you should feed it at least once a week. Your starter will need to be fed more often at the beginning of its life as it gets stronger; this is the first 3 to 6 months. As it gets older and stronger, you will only need to feed it every two weeks, considering how often you plan to use it. 

How Much Food Does Your Starter Need 

Your starter should be fed equal amounts of flour and water at every feed; this will ensure it maintains its desired consistency and hydration level. The type of flour you decide to use is up to you; any whole-grain flour would be recommended as it will provide the most nutrients for your starter.

Before feeding your starter, you must remember to discard some of it to ensure your starter’s volume doesn’t exceed its container volume. It is ideal for your starter to fill less than half the container’s size to make sure it has room to grow. Keeping your starter at the desired volume will ensure you don’t end up with a fridge full of starter.

Note: If you are not sure what to do with your sourdough discard and how long it lasts, you can check out my article “How Long Does Sourdough Discard Last?” for some inspiration.

It is best not to feed your starter more than three times the amount of flour and water to its current volume; this will make it is not overwhelmed during a feed. For example, if there is 1 cup of starter available, you should not exceed 3 cups of flour and 3 cups of water at one feeding time

How To Feed Your Starter When It Is Used For Baking

If your starter has lots of bubbles and has doubled in size you know it is good for feeding

If you plan on using your refrigerated starter for baking, you need to take it out and feed it 12-14 hours before baking with it; this is important. It will help give it a boost and reactivate it and increase its size.

You need to make sure you have enough starter for your recipe while leaving some over for the next batch. Suppose you need more than triple the amount of what you currently have; you will need to feed it multiple times to get to the desired volume. You don’t have to discard any starter before feeds as this will prolong the time you need. 

Feeding your starter multiple times to get the desired volume will prevent overfeeding; you can space out the feeds throughout the day. The amount of time between feeds will also help avoid overfeeding your starter; the time between meals should be about 6-8 hours. You can tell that your starter is ready for its next feed once it has doubled in size and is full of bubbles.

Note: If you are not sure how your starter is supposed to look, you can read my guide to find out whether it has the right consistency here.

Signs Of An Overfed Starter

Some signs can enable you to identify whether you have overfed your starter; this can help identify it early and reverse it as soon as possible. When your starter is fed correctly, the number of yeast and good bacteria will increase and strengthen as it feeds on the flour’s nutrients. 

If your starter has been overfed, the yeast and bacteria will diminish and become dormant. If done over a long period, the mixture will end up being just flour and water, similar to a new starter. An overfed starter will look diluted and overhydrated, reducing its quality and flavor.

The acid or alkali levels in your starter become out of balance. Your starter will become sluggish with no bubbles present, it will not grow after being fed, or it will take too long to double in size. The bread you make using this overfed starter will be very flat and dense, and it will not rise properly. 

How To Save An Overfed Starter?

A Sourdough Starter can be saved and revived once overfed; this is because it does not die but rather is just out of balance. Do not discard an overfed starter but rather follow the process of reviving it by treating it like a brand new starter.

You should use the contents of your overfed started instead of making a new one from scratch. Doing it this way is beneficial as it won’t take as long to mature, and it will attain its full flavors quicker once it has developed.

The best thing to do once your starter has been overfed is to allow it to sit at room temperature till it heals; once it starts its journey to full recovery, you can feed it once a day. It will take about 3-10 days to be healthy and fully matured again with its desired flavor and consistency. 

Once it starts to rejuvenate and activate, you will see bubbles forming, and it will increase in size. If this happens for at least three feeds in a row; then, it can be used or stored in the refrigerator. At this point, it will not be the high-quality, healthy starter with a foamy texture that it once was, but it will get there. 

Your starter will go through different phases over the first few days, which is expected; the first three days will display bubbles with lots of activity. The starter from days 4-6 may look like it is not alive with reduced activity; this does not mean that it is not working. 

During days 4-6, you must continue to feed it at the recommended times with the correct amount of flour and water, leading to a healthy active looking starter after the 6th day. Try and keep your starter at room temperature for as long as possible, about 10 – 20 days; this will help it fully mature and form all its defenses to survive.

Note: For more tips on when to use your sourdough starter at the perfect time, check out my article “When to Use Sourdough Starter at its Peak to Bake Good Bread

You can also consider giving it a boost as it awakens the type of flour you decide to use. A highly recommended flour is 50% rye flour or organic flour; if you do not want to use this, you can try any whole-wheat flour. These flours provide more nutrients for the yeast to grow, and organic flour has fewer chemicals that could affect yeast and good bacteria’s growth.


It is not difficult making a starter; the methods to make one are essential to follow to make sure it grows properly and stays healthy. It is also convenient to have around the kitchen as it can be used for many different types of baked goods.

The basic needs and principles are essential to note when producing a healthy starter that is growing well and is full of flavor. A factor that can is beneficial to consider when feeding a starter is the type of flour you decide to use; this will contribute to its taste and quality.

It is good to know that your starter is not dead; if you overfed it by mistake, you would just be required to treat it like a new starter until it is healthy again. If this does happen, it will need less attention and fewer feeds for a few days, but it will be good as new within a week. 

Hi, I’m Aysha

I love spending time making the most helpful content I can so you can become a better sourdough baker.

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