Have you ever wondered whether you have to clean your sourdough starter jar? The simple answer is you don't need to clean your sourdough jar. It's just not necessary to clean your jar all that regularly, unless it's super crusty or you can't get your starter out or fresh flour and water in.
Whether you use glass jars, plastic containers or something else for your starter, chances are you don't actually need to clean it as much as you think you do, if ever, especially if you have a mature starter.
Of course there are times when your sourdough starter jar may need a good clean, but did you know that your mother starter will actually be happier if you leave it in the same jar?
Seriously, your own colony of wild yeast and bacteria will thrive when left in their own little home. And that has got to lead to baking great sourdough bread, right?
If you're looking for more information, you might find these 30 tips for cleaner sourdough baking helpful, or this guide to the best container for sourdough starter. I've also put together this list of the most frequently asked sourdough starter questions to help you on your sourdough journey.
Should I Clean My Sourdough Starter Jar Everyday?
It's definitely not necessary to clean your sourdough starter jar everyday, or even every few days, even if you are keeping your starter at room temperature. You can easily remove the sourdough starter you need to (discard) and add equal parts fresh flour and water to refresh it without cleaning the jar.
You can easily keep the top of your sourdough starter jar clean by using a rubber or silicone spatula to scrape down the sides of the jar, as well as some paper towel to wipe off any excess.
You can also just scrape off any sourdough starter which hardens on the outside of the jar. Doing this on a regular basis will help to ensure you are maintaining a healthy sourdough starter.
Tips To Keep Your Sourdough Starter Jar Clean (without washing it)
There are many things you can do to keep your sourdough starter jar clean, without changing it everyday. These include:
- use a wide mouth mason jar
- use a larger container to ensure that your sourdough starter doesn't overflow
- mix your sourdough starter in a clean bowl before transferring back into your jar
- add the water first when feeding your starter
- use a flexible jar spatula to scrape down the sides of the jar
- use a paper towel or damp cloth to wipe the rim of the jar after feeding
- regular feeding of your sourdough starter will help keep the bacteria and natural yeast working to avoid mold
Keeping your sourdough starter clean and free from debris is a good idea because dirty jars can encourage mold to form or fruit flies to take up residence.
Wide Mouth Jar
A sourdough starter container with a wide mouth, like a mason jar, is perfect. A wide mouth allows you to add flour and water to the jar without a lot of mess. Wide-mouth jars often have straight sides too, which is also handy for keeping the jar mess free.
Don't Let Your Starter Overflow
Using a jar a bit bigger than you think you'll need is often a good idea. If your sourdough starter container is too small, your starter may overflow which can cause the top of the jar to have crusty bits and encourage mold and fruit flies.
The side of the jar can get really messy from overflow very quickly. Smaller jars tend to be harder to work with and need cleaning more often because of overflow. Choosing the right container is really important to the health of your starter.
Warmer temperatures can also cause your sourdough starter to escape it's container, so keeping an eye on the ideal temperature for your sourdough starter is important.
Mix Your Starter Outside Your Jar
Many people find mixing their sourdough starter outside of the jar helpful. They take the sourdough starter out of the jar, discarding what they don't need. Then add fresh flour and water, mix vigorously and return to the jar. You can of course clean the jar using this process, but you don't have to.
Add Water First
Adding water first really helps to reduce the mess in your sourdough starter jar. In fact, if you add the water and then pop the lid on and give it a shake before adding the flour, the water will clean the sides of the jar and get all the stray bits of starter off.
I find this method is really good in keeping my sourdough starter container clean and reducing the need for washing it each day. For this method, it's handy to have a tight fitting lid for shaking to avoid water spraying everywhere. Once the starter has been fed, you can just loosely sit the lid on the top.
Use A Jar Spatula
This jar spatula is an absolute game changer for sourdough starter! I use it to keep my sourdough starter jars clean on the inside, but also to mix my sourdough recipes too. I highly recommend having a couple floating around your kitchen.
Have Paper Towel Handy
Paper towel is perfect for keeping the top of your sourdough starter jar clean, so you don't have to wash it. Wiping away excess starter with a paper towel makes sense, because using a dish cloth is messy and ends up wasting a lot of water trying to get the flour and water off.
Regular Feedings Are Essential
Feeding your sourdough starter regularly will reduce the risk of your sourdough starter attracting mold and fruit flies. It will also reduce the hooch it will potentially produce.
A regularly fed and well maintained sourdough starter is generally happier and will therefore be less prone to mold and harmful bacteria forming on the top of your starter.
It doesn't matter whether you're feeding your starter with whole wheat flour, bread flour or even all purpose flour - it must be fed regularly to survive (unless you've made provisions for long term storage). Feeding your starter with different flours is perfectly fine.
Do Sourdough Starter Jars and Equipment Need To Be Sterilised?
There's no need to sterilise sourdough starter jars or other equipment like spatulas and spoons. You should just try to be as clean as possible, without being obsessive. Washing jars and equipment in hot water with a little dishwashing liquid and rinsing well is enough - just like you would do when you wash up after a meal or clean up after baking sourdough.
Rinsing everything well is important because any residue of dishwashing liquid can upset your sourdough starter and encourage mold or other harmful bacteria to grow.
Sourdough starters existed long before the good sanitation standards we enjoy today. Did you know that sourdough starters were once carried by gold miners in the gold rush era, who often kept them in their armpits for warmth. The fermentation process of sourdough is one with a rich history and sterilisation has definitely not been a key part of sourdough survival.
Are Glass Jars Easier To Clean then Plastic Jars?
Given that we don't have to sterilise sourdough starter containers, it's really personal choice whether you use plastic or glass. Neither are necessarily easier to clean than the other, although I find glass is easier to scrape down with a spatula than plastic.
You can find a good guide to the kind of container to use for sourdough starters here.
How Do I Know If My Sourdough Starter Jar Is Contaminated?
It's pretty easy to see when your sourdough starter is contaminated and no longer viable. If you see any signs of mold, pink or orange streaks (bad bacteria) or other contaminants, it's time to rehydrate some dried sourdough starter or grab a bag of starter out of the freezer to start again.
You could also use these instructions for making a new sourdough starter if you have no back ups at all.
Should I Discard The Hooch In Sourdough Starter?
You don't have to discard the hooch that may form on top of your starter. If it's been in the fridge for a long time and the hooch is black or discolored, you may prefer to discard it before feeding and refreshing your starter. You'll find a full guide to reviving an old sourdough starter here (including how to deal with the hooch).
If the hooch is clear, you might prefer to stir it in for a stronger sour flavor. A sourdough starter shouldn't really produce hooch unless it hasn't been fed in a long time.
If yours is a new starter and is producing hooch regularly, you'll need to troubleshoot your sourdough starter and find out what is causing the issue.
Frequently Asked Questions
No you won't get mold on your sourdough starter if you don't clean the jar everyday, so long as you keep the rim of the jar clean and your starter is fed regularly. Sourdough starter contains lactic acid bacteria which can help to fight off mold and other harmful bacteria.
Yes, while it's not necessary to use a clean jar every time you feed your sourdough starter, it is not harmful to your starter to do so. Some people use the "two jar method" which means you feed into a clean jar and then wash the dirty jar ready for the next feed.
Thanks for all the excellent info. Helps tremendously!!!