Sourdough Starter: Day 1

Well, the joke was on me this time. Several of you emailed or left comments asking where you buy cheese cloth for making sourdough starter. I had ordered mine from Frontier a long time ago…so I really didn’t KNOW where to tell you to go buy some. I googled it and found that hardware stores carry it…and usually Walmart. In the paint department (weird). 

Anyway…I was getting my supplies out last night so that I could start my starter in the morning…and guess what I was out of? CHEESE CLOTH. :)

I ran to my hardware store and grabbed some this morning (thanks to all of you who made me google it so that I would know where to get it!!). Oh and I asked the guy why it’s in the paint department and he said it is because some people strain their paint with it. I guess more people strain paint than make their own cheese or sourdough.

Okay…enough cheese cloth trivia. Let’s make sourdough.

For the first day you’ll need:

1 large jar or glass bowl (not metal…glass only)
2 cups whole wheat or rye flour (freshly ground if possible)
2 cups cold water (filtered is best)
Long spoon for stirring
Cheesecloth (of course)

First, pour 2 cups of flour into the jar or bowl.

It doesn’t get much more exciting than looking at flour in a jar.

Next, stir in 2 cups of water. It should be mixed well and look soupy.


This is just a view from the top of the jar after I stirred the flour and water together. It’s pretty liquid-y. That’s just the way it’s supposed to be the first day.

Cover the top of your jar or lid with cheesecloth. This will keep dust and bugs from getting in…but it will allow the yeast and bacteria from the air to get in and do it’s thing. Isn’t it COOL that there is natural yeast in the air?! And bacteria. Bacteria has a bad reputation. Not all bacteria is bad. There’s LOTS of GOOD bacteria hanging around. Poor bacteria. So misunderstood…

I usually attach my cheese cloth to the rim of my jar with a rubberband. If you’re using a large glass bowl, you might need to tie a string around it instead. Unless you have a gigantic rubberband hanging around. If you do, I’d like to see it.

Sourdough does best in a warm place. Unfortunately we’re starting this in January. There are no warm places in Nebraska in January. (Maybe there are warm places where you live?)  If you do live in a warm place, you can put yours in a sunny spot or on your patio. I’m putting mine in the most consistently warm spot in my kitchen…the cabinet above my refrigerator. 

See, there it is hanging out with my culturing buttermilk. 

That’s all you do on day one. 

For tomorrow you’ll need:  a clean jar or glass bowl, 1 more cup of whole wheat or rye flour and one cup of water. 

See you then!

Visit Tammy’s Recipes for more kitchen know how!



  1. says

    Oooh! This looks like fun. I’ll have to try this sometime soon. Only 5 more days until I’m a full time homemaker! Yay!

    While researching mashed potato recipes at Thanksgiving, I learned that some people save the water from boiled potatoes to make sourdough starter. Do you know anything about this?


  2. says

    Hooray! I am SO glad you told me where to get cheesecloth. (I am too far behind schedule on everything else to start sourdough with you, but maybe at another time). But I was totally wanting to get some cheesecloth because I make my own soy milk and it has too much grainy stuff in it and I wanted to strain it. So thanks for the tip. I will put the hardware store on my list of places to go this week. :)


  3. says

    I was curious if you can use unbleached all-purpose flour for this, too?

    I’m very interested in this process! Several years ago I had starter that used instant potato flakes and I LOVED it. I’m so sorry for letting it die:( So lately I’ve started researching how to make your own starter. I was so excited to find your blog today on MPM.


  4. says

    Ooooh, thanks for posting this; it is so interesting! (And, I’m NOT kidding:) I’ve been wanting to make homemade sour dough for a long time. I live in Michigan and we don’t have any warm spots either. The top of the fridge should work well for me.

    take care,



  5. Jill Roper says

    I love sourdough! I have a story. Some years ago I was given a starter that had been going strong for 98 years. That is NOT a typo. It was from a very elderly godly woman in our congregation. It had been started by her mother before she was born and she was 96 at the time. Well, I used that starter for years and made english muffins, pancake, waffles and a yummy fried (I know fried anything is terrible) Fast forward a few years. We were being stationed oversees on a tiny island out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I already knew the hard way to not take starter on a plane (another story)so I gave it to her for safe keeping. Part way through the tour she figured out how to freeze dry the entire starter and then mailed it to me with directions to reconstitute it. Boy was it wonderful. Now fast forward coming back to the states. We had to be evacuated with an hours notice and so our goods were shipped back to the states without us being there to pack. According to eye witnesses, the packers went into our refrigerator and found this liquid in a container that had a 1/2 inch yellow liquid on top. They thought it was something totally gross and threw away 105 year old sourdough starter! Do you know just how good sourdough starter is that is 100 years old? Trust me it is fabulous.
    So, after several years of not having sourdough I will go up right now and start some starter. I never made it with whole wheat. Should be good.
    How do you culture your own buttermilk Laura?


  6. jayme says

    Ok…I so have mine going. And the guy at the hardware store said…”cheesecloth???” but yeah they had it. :)

    I’m so curious to see how this works. There are no warm spots in my house either. Does it have to be warm??? My cabinet above my fridge is NOT warm. I set mine on the counter next to the stove top…but not really…warm. Does it have to be???


  7. Jen says

    I usually have to sit back and think every trivial little thing over, but I just jumped up and started playing along! But uh… it occurs to me that my quart jar is NOT going to be large enough. Can the starter be halved? And how much will the jar/bowl eventually need to hold?

    My local Hyvee grocery store has cheesecloth in the section with all the other random kitchen implements (near the foil, waxed paper, and plastic bags). So there’s another place people can look.

    I’ve been meaning to tell you that my kiddos loved your Holiday Hospital for Kids e-book! My 3yo came up with a fun red and green twist on your cranberry trail mix using Christmassy green pistachios!


  8. says

    Hmm… I may have to try it your way…. I have done it several times with plain flour with good results BUT I have bombed everytime I’ve used whole grain flour! ‘magine that?!!?!


  9. says

    I tried making whole wheat sourdough once and it didn’t work out for me. In fact, I ended up posting a video to my blog all about my sourdough brick, LOL. But it looks like you really know what you’re doing! One thing I do know, though, is that they sell reusable cheesecloth now. I’m thinking of picking some up so that I can strain some homemade yogurt into cream cheese. Anyway, just thought I’d share. Good luck with the bread!


  10. says

    Laura, you must be a mind-reader or something! I stopped by looking for some inspiration as I seek to make some changes in the food I eat and feed my family (just read Nina Planck’s book which reminded me why I tried to make these changes two years ago, got off track since then.) And was thinking I really wanted to give sourdough bread a try! :)


  11. says

    I just love your website. I am a 73 year old Grandma and looking at your sourdough starter reminds me of my Grandmother. She always had starter in her kitchen. She made the best pancakes I have ever eaten. I am looking forward to seeing her in heaven one day. Wishing you a very godly day today and may you have many more.


  12. Lynnette says

    How many loaves does this recipe make? Thanks so much for the tutorial. Can’t wait to try it. The Pampered chef crocks are discontinued-are metal pans not an option?


  13. says

    Hi! Me again! I just got mine started, and posted about it. It turned out really thick. Would you take a look at my post (above), and let me know what you think? Thanks bunches!


  14. Jennifer says

    Can you please tell me where you found such a large mason jar? I have looked all over for a gallon sized one but they are hard to find. Thanks! Can’t wait to make this!


  15. apimom says

    Whole wheat does not easily make a sourdough. The outer shell – bran – contains th wrong balance of living organisms. Best results obtained with Rye flour – please sift out bran as much as possible.

    No additives such as milk, buttermilk, raisings, potato peels and especially NO commercial YEAST. This is like trying to breed Pommeranians with the help of Rottweilers.

    Any Rye sourdough, once established, can then be fed wheat flour – again not whole wheat – to make a wheat sourdough if so desired.

    Sourdough is absolutely necessary if using any percentage Rye flour in bread to make it work and to make it digestible at all.

    Any wheat breads (and now one can use whole wheat in part or all) certainly get really good flavour and will rise with the help og non baker’s yeats with the yeasts in sourdough. Just takes longer to rise and has to be watched not to get to the point where the yeast has no more food and dies off – over fermentation.

    Not sure about the necessity of the cheesecloth. Not sure what it does really. Loose lid or rubber band and a paper towel is fine. Actually as sourdough fermentation is an anaerobic process, cling wrap is fine too.

    If you like you can make a few tiny holes in the cling wrap purely to let CO2 escape. Cheese cloth does not have magic sourdough making features.

    Sourdough starter can smell in the beginning of nail polish remover, vinegar, cheese and cheap wine. All that is ok. Brown water separation on top is ok too. Stir it under. It just means the stuff is hungry for more flour. Any really bad smell, black, green or red discolouration of mold hairs growth – please discard.

    Sourdough use is 30% to 60% of total bread volume best worked up in three stages over 3 x 12 hour periods to ensure good sourdough organism growth and population density throughout your batch. Add salt last – 2% of total mass.

    If you ever have to take sourdough somewhere:
    1. Spread a portion really thin on parchment paper and let it dry to crumbles – takes less than a day. Put in pill container and re-hydrate again when needed.
    2. rub with flour to make dry crumbles – transport in plastic contaienr.

    It takes only a small amount and re-feeding to re-constitute it. The sourdough organisms are in the dry matter and can be stored that way in a dark and dry location for years. Make sure the crumbles are really dry. This method also makes a good back-up or two or three./ Jsut in case something happens.

    Never expose sourdough starter to heat above body temperature. It will kill the sourdough.


    Victoria Reply:

    Great info! Thanks so much!


  16. Melissa says

    I know this is an old post. But I wanted to comment on the cheesecloth. I have found it at Publix. Anyway. I just thought I’d add this for anyone who doesn’t frequent the hardware store. =-)


  17. says

    Was curious about old sourdough starters and came across this site. Thought I would add my two cents worth.

    Back in the 80s I bought a book by Ruth Allman entitled “Alaskan Sourdough”. Followed her directions to make a starter from scratch and by God’s grace have managed to keep it going all these years using nothing but bleached white flour and water. There have been some close calls! The starter celebrated its 25th birthday last February. A few weeks ago I sent off for some of Carl’s starter so that I could compare the end product; for me, pancakes. That is about all I use it for. I received a small bit of crushed dried starter, followed the directions, and now have a nice pot of bubbling Carl’s starter. Looking forward to a side by side taste test in the near future. By the way, I never found the need for cheesecloth. I just made sure to leave a little bit of breathing room for any container of sourdough while it was working. Thanks for your website!


  18. says

    Hi Laura!

    Just wanted to let you know that I linked to this post on a recent post about sourdough that I just wrote on my blog . . . thank you for being such a great resource!


    PS – How did I not know you lived in NE? We just moved to Omaha earlier last year . . . we’re neighbors!


  19. Chrissy says

    Hi Laura,
    Can you let the sourdough bread rise in metal bread pans? I really appreciate all the effort you put into your site.
    Thank you,


    Laura Reply:

    No, you really have to use glass or stoneware pans. Sourdough absorbs metal and that’s not good. Bummer though, when all you have are metal baking pans. :)


  20. Sheri says

    I’m making my first attempt at a sourdough starter, so I’m no help except for the rubber band question at this point.

    I’ve got two different kinds going, but only had 1 mason jar (I’m going to look for some tomorrow for permanant storage jars.

    anyways… I covered a glass baking dish with cheeesecloth and used a headband (made for hair, yet I never use them) to hold it on. It fit’s perfectly. :)

    Just thought I’d let you know. Thanks for the site. I’m finding it VERY helpful in my novice endeavors into breadmaking.


  21. Erin S. says

    Ok, just started mine tonight using unbleached white flour. I mixed it up well and it wasn’t soupy. It was a little thick, definitely thicker than the picture above. Have I messed it up already?? :)


    Laura Reply:

    No, you haven’t messed it up already…just add a little extra water until it is a little thinner. It really is hard to mess up a sourdough starter!! I bet it’s just fine!


  22. says

    What if you don’t have cheesecloth? I’m gonna make a sourdough starter. I live in Costa Rica and don’t know where to get cheesecloth. Can I sub it for something else?


    Laura Reply:

    The cheesecloth is used just to keep bugs out, but let air in. If you have a very thin tea towel or something like that it would work too!


  23. April says

    I have tried to make a starter before and failed :(, although I have made bread from a starter someone gave me. The recipe I used said to use yeast, but yours does not? Also, would any kind of flour work with your recipe? It seems SO much easier than the other recipe I have tried. Thank you for this great blog, and all the hard work you put into it.


    Laura Reply:

    Right, this sourdough starter draws in natural yeast from the air…cool! I have never tried this with any other flour than whole wheat, so I’m ASSUMING that any flour will work, but I’m not sure.


  24. Alina says

    Hi Laura,
    You say to keep it in a warm place. What would the ideal temp. range be? Would you recommend keeping it in the oven with the light on? The temp. in my oven is 93 to 96 F.
    I am loving your blog.
    Thank you.


    Laura Reply:

    In the oven with the light on would be fine. Really, it doesn’t have to be a “warm” place so much as just “not in a cold place”. Room temp has worked fine for me.


  25. Lisa says

    As a rubberband my husband came up with the idea of taking some elastic I had for sewing and tying it to the right length. It works GREAT! I can use it just like a rubber band over my bowls


  26. Linda says

    “Unless you have a gigantic rubberband hanging around. If you do, I’d like to see it.”

    I have gigantic rubber bands! My husband buys them for the cat in the kitty department of the store…

    I also make sourdough and an am enjoying reading how you make yours… :D


  27. says

    Hi Laura,
    I am trying to make this sourdough starter and mine is coming out really thick when I first make it (Day 1) It’s 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of water right? I love your site!! :)


    Laura Reply:

    Yes, but if you feel it is too thick, it’s fine to add a little extra water.


  28. Christina D says

    Any idea if you can make sourdough bread in a bread machine? Or would that not work if you have a bread machine with a metal pan?


    LindseyforLaura@HHM Reply:

    You can do it, but there are a lot of things that can make it go wrong. You are better off making it with a glass pan or stoneware.


    Linda Reply:

    I make sourdough is a bread machine. My bread pan is metal, but
    coated with a gray colored coating, as most are today I believe.
    The bread turns out fine.


    Victoria Reply:

    Linda, can you give specific instructions on how to make it in a bread machine? Thanks so much!

    Linda Reply:

    Sure Victoria. Please see my blog post here:

  29. Alice Freeman says

    I started my sourdough bread today. I used 2c. cold water
    2c. dark rye flour. I mixed well & mine is not soupy like
    you said. Mine is thick. Does that matter? Please reply. Thankyou


    Laura Reply:

    It shouldn’t matter, but you may want to add just a little more water (about 1/4 cup).


  30. Carol says

    This may seem an odd question: Since you discard so much of this on feeding days, I was wondering if it would be beneficial to a septic system? They recommend flushing yeast down your toilet to help the process of breaking things down in a septic system and logic tells me this should work just as well, or better. Anyone knowledgeable about such things?


    Linda Reply:

    I think that is a good idea also…


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