Last Updated on May 11, 2023 by Lori Walker
A sourdough starter is essential to making homemade sourdough bread. However, it’s incredibly simple to “kill” a sourdough starter, and once dead, you will have to start over and pray that the next batch turns out better.
So, how do you know if the sourdough starter is dead? Read on to find out.
5 Signs That Your Sourdough Starter Is Dead
1. It Does Not Respond To Regular Feedings
The best way to tell if your sourdough starter is dead is if it does not respond to regular feedings. When you add fresh flour and water to the mix, you should see it come back to life through bubbling.
Feeding it means adding fresh flour and water to keep the beneficial bacteria and yeast alive.  But is it bad when a sourdough starter smells like cheese?
2. It Has An Odd Odor
A sourdough starter should have a slightly acidic, pleasant smell.
“If you really want to make a friend, go round someone’s house with a freshly baked loaf of sourdough bread!”– Chris Geiger, Author
On the other hand, if it has an incredibly pungent smell, it’s a clear indication that it has gone bad.
Check out the possible reasons why your sourdough starter smells like nail polish remover here.
3. There Is Discoloration
A sourdough starter should have the color of porridge.
If you see unusual colors, a lot of unwanted bacteria have grown on its surface. Find out how you can tell if the almond dark expires here.
4. There Are Visible Molds
Don’t consume sourdough starter with visible molds on it.
You can try to remedy it, but the presence of molds means a lot of bad bacteria, and it’s best to chuck everything at this point.
5. It Was Exposed To High Heat
A sourdough starter is temperature sensitive. If it has been exposed to a warmer environment beyond 120°F (around 49°C), you could safely assume it is ruined.
But what to do if your sourdough is not holding shape?
Can You Save A Dead Sourdough Starter?
You can try a few tricks to bring your sourdough starter back to life, but reviving it can always be a hit or miss.
The first step is making sure it’s actually dead. You can start by incorporating flour and lukewarm water to see if it responds, and if it does, it might be worth saving.
However, it might be best to throw everything out if it had gotten too moldy. At this point, it’s best to build a new one and keep it in the best possible conditions. 
Find out if you can use bleached flour for sourdough starters here.
How To Properly Store Sourdough Starter
It’s important to know how to store a sourdough starter properly. We recommend glass or plastic containers because the fermentation activity will corrode a metal bowl.
It can be left on the kitchen counter or inside the refrigerator, depending on the frequency of use. If you bake sourdough bread a few times a week, leaving it on the kitchen counter away from heat and direct sunlight is okay.
If you bake more infrequently, it will be better suited inside the refrigerator. Just remember to feed your starter every two weeks to keep it active.
Read: 5 Helpful Ways To Keep Bread From Molding So Fast
Will Tap Water Kill My Starter?
It depends. Some areas have heavily chlorinated tap water, which is unsuitable to use. Leave the tap water inside a jug for a while for the chlorine to evaporate.
On the other hand, you can safely use drinkable tap water.
Can You Take A Break From A Sourdough Starter?
Sourdough starters must be fed daily at room temperature and once a week if left inside the refrigerator.
However, you can take a break from it. Once it has been established (about ten days after you first created it), you can move it inside the fridge after a particularly large feeding, and it will keep for two weeks without feeding.
You will need to feed it for a couple of days before you add it to your bread dough.
How long until the sourdough starter dies?
The lifespan of a sourdough starter depends on how often you feed it. It can last up to two months with proper daily feeding.
Find out how long you can keep the bread dough in the refrigerator here.
How do I know if my sourdough starter is not working?
An active sourdough starter should double its growth within four hours of feeding. You can also do the float test, wherein you fill a cup with room temperature water and add a tablespoon of starter. If it floats, it’s ready to go.
Check out these ways in reheating your sourdough bread here.
How long can sourdough starters go without being fed?
It depends on how old the sourdough starter is. If it’s new (less than a month old), it requires daily feeding and wouldn’t survive if it had not been fed for over 24 hours.
However, if you are dealing with a mature starter (around three months old), it can be left unfed for three days at room temperature.
But how long does it take to proof sourdough at room temperature?
How do I know if my sourdough starter is ready?
You can tell if the sourdough starter is ready by the float test. Fill a bowl with room temperature water and drop a teaspoon of starter. If it floats, it’s ready for use.
Check out the best size of the Dutch oven to use for your sourdough bread here.
A good way to know if the sourdough starter has died is its response to feedings. If it does not secrete bubbles and gas, there is a huge chance that it’s gone inactive.
A healthy sourdough starter should smell pleasantly acidic, courtesy of good bacteria. If its scent has you gasping for breath, it has gone bad.
It should also have a lumpy appearance and the color of porridge. A dead sourdough starter will show mold and unusual colors.
Keep the starter alive through daily feedings and storing it in the best environment.
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