I'm using a sourdough starter from the recipe in Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day and I have gone through several of the rebuilding cycles with it. It's been working fairly well for me and I have been refreshing it every week. It is stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

How long can the starter be left in the fridge without being refreshed before it's un-salvageable and would need to be thrown out?

  • How much starter do you have? I imagine this will influence the length of time it can last
    – NBenatar
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 12:19
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    According to Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, you can pretty much always refresh a starter, it just takes more work after 2 weeks.
    – justkt
    Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 13:01
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    I would be concerned about storing in an "airtight" container. To the best of my knowledge, the lactic acid bacteria in a sourdough are aerobic. If you store in an airtight container, you risk growing anaerobic bacteria -- which produce toxins that remain after cooking. My personal favorite was a glazed stoneware crock with a loose-fitting lid. And a box of baking soda to keep down nasty odors in the fridge.
    – kdgregory
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 12:54

5 Answers 5


The following is paraphrased from Andrew Whitley's excellent book Bread Matters

Wheat leaven

  • If you intend to use within 2 days, store the it at ambient temperature
  • For 2-14 days, store it in the fridge. Optionally refresh it before use.
  • For longer, refresh then freeze. Refresh again after thawing.

Rye sourdough

  • 0-3 days -- ambient temperature
  • 3-30 days -- fridge, no need to refresh
  • Longer -- refresh then freeze. Refresh again after thawing.

Whitley describes "constructive neglect". He keeps a rye sourdough in his fridge that's several months old, so that he can demonstrate to students how easily he can take 50g of it and produce a lovely sourdough from it within 16 hours.

It's a great book.

  • 1
    +1 for 14 days as the upper limit in the fridge, but I'd say you'll definitely want to refresh before trying to make bread with a culture that old. Or you'd need to allow more time for the initial rise. I'd say after 14 days on a bread or A/P flour starter you're more in the area of risky neglect than constructive neglect. You're not risking that all the yeast will die as much as you're risking an infection of bad bacteria or mold. Commented Jan 13, 2011 at 20:25

I've had mine sit for six months or more without feeding and still have life in it.

Don't use such an old one for bread though. Do a thorough wash of it first. Otherwise it'll taste like poop in a gym sock.

  • How do you wash a starter? Commented Jan 14, 2011 at 8:59
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    Take a little bit of the starter, add flour/water, and toss the rest. Do it 2+ times before using. Refreshes and strengthens it. By the time you're done the old:new ratio should be enough to remove any bad characteristics from super-old, over-fermented starter Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 1:24
  • How do you know what poop in a gym sock tastes like? Just kidding! I agree whole-heartedly. I can take mine out of the fridge after months of neglect and have it back in shape within a day.
    – erickson
    Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 2:49

It should last for a couple of weeks without feeding. You should feed it at least twice before using it again though. Probably the safest thing to do is take a little of the starter and use it as an experiment; keep one bit for a week without feeding and see if it works, and another bit for two, etc.


In the fall, I made about five loaves of sour dough bread with a starter a friend gave me. Over the holidays, the starter was in the fridge for about five weeks without my using it. Then, after feeding it twice, it seemed to be back to normal and I made a standard sour dough white bread. It rose beautifully and looked great. However, it did not taste great. It was not bad, but nothing special. I'll make another loaf soon and see what happens. AL


According to thejoykitchen.com , it can go at least a month. I have had excess starter that I made in the refrigerator now for 4 weeks, took some of it out, stirred in the 'hootch' on top, lightly fed it some very thick 'dinner'...(nearly as thick flour to water ratio as I could mix together and still have it look like an extremely way too thick pancake batter), and put it back into the fridge. It bubbled slightly, but not enough to overflow the container.

I have also read that even at some months, it is still totally salvageable, though I have yet to try it. I will be testing my starters saved in different containers in the fridge to verify what to do when. You can also dry your starter, and I have ordered parchment paper to do this on. Hope that helps.

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