Why Is My Sourdough Bread Dough Not Rising?

Disclosure: As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.

Sourdough bread has been a food staple for thousands of years. Nothing is more disappointing than the failure to get the perfect rise when baking sourdough bread. It is essential to understand the science behind the rising process. This article seeks to identify common reasons for sourdough bread dough not rising and offer tips to rectify the situation.

Understanding the Science of Sourdough Bread Dough Rising

The process of getting sourdough bread to rise relies primarily on fermentation and the evolution of naturally occurring yeasts present in the sourdough starter. The starter contains a blend of flour and water, home to countless yeast cells and bacteria that generate natural gases (carbon dioxide and ethanol) during the fermentation process of bread making.

As the yeast continues to multiply during the fermentation process, carbon dioxide gas expands, causing the bread dough to rise. The dough will eventually stop rising when so many yeast cells have been created that they overcome the bread’s strength and start to die off.

It is important to note that the temperature and humidity of the environment can greatly affect the fermentation process and the rise of the bread dough. Warmer temperatures and higher humidity can speed up the fermentation process, resulting in a faster rise, while cooler temperatures and lower humidity can slow down the process and result in a slower rise. Bakers often adjust the temperature and humidity of their dough’s environment to achieve the desired rise and texture of the final product.

Common Reasons for Sourdough Bread Dough Not Rising

Several factors influence the sourdough bread dough rising process. Without proper monitoring, your dough may not rise as anticipated. The following are some of the most common reasons for this:

The Sourdough Starter is Inactive

The starter is the critical ingredient in sourdough bread making as it comprises of the natural yeast bread requires. However, sometimes people fail to keep their starters active, and the yeast cells die off and ultimately lead to flatbread.

Incorrect Temperature

The temperature of the dough determines the maturity of the yeast, necessary for rising. During wintry or colder months, bread makers should keep the dough warm to encourage its rise.

Humidity Factor

Increased levels of humidity may also interfere with the dough’s rising, as it affects yeast activity and creates a tackier dough.

Over Fermentation

A prolonged fermentation period of the sourdough starter can result in its over-fermentation and death of the yeast cells, which makes them unable to produce gas for the bread to rise.

Incorrect Flour Type

The type of flour used in making sourdough bread needs to have the appropriate protein and hydration levels. Any difference may compromise the dough’s structure, leading to not rising.

Insufficient Kneading

Another reason for sourdough bread dough not rising is insufficient kneading. Kneading helps to develop the gluten in the dough, which is essential for trapping the gas produced by the yeast during fermentation. Without proper kneading, the dough may not have enough gluten to hold the gas, resulting in a dense and flat bread.

How to Identify If Your Sourdough Starter Is Active and Healthy

It is necessary to adopt certain practices to ensure your sourdough starter is healthy and active each time you bake.

The best method to determine if your starter is healthy is to assess its temperament. If you notice that it doubles in size within 6 to 8 hours after feeding, that is a healthy indicator. The starter should also smell sweet, slightly tangy, and not moldy.

Another way to determine if your sourdough starter is active is to perform the float test. Take a small amount of the starter and drop it into a bowl of water. If it floats, it means that there are enough gas bubbles in the starter, indicating that it is active and ready to use.

It is important to maintain your sourdough starter regularly to keep it healthy. You should feed it at least once a week, or more frequently if you use it often. You can also store it in the refrigerator to slow down its activity and reduce the frequency of feeding. However, make sure to take it out and feed it at least once a week to keep it alive.

The Importance of Proper Temperature for Sourdough Bread Dough Rising

The optimal temperature for the sourdough bread dough rising process should be between 75-80 F (24-27C). When colder, the yeast will not activate correctly, and it may take far longer to rise than anticipated. In contrast, hotter temperatures will stimulate higher fermentation rates, which can lead to over-fermentation and reduced yeast health.

It is important to note that the temperature of the dough during the rising process can also affect the flavor and texture of the final product. If the dough is too cold, the bread may have a denser texture and a less pronounced sourdough flavor. On the other hand, if the dough is too warm, the bread may have a more pronounced sourdough flavor, but it may also have a more open crumb structure and a thinner crust.

To ensure that the dough is at the optimal temperature for rising, it is recommended to use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the dough and the environment. If the temperature is too low, the dough can be placed in a warmer area, such as near a warm oven or in a proofing box. If the temperature is too high, the dough can be placed in a cooler area, such as a refrigerator or a cooler room.

How Humidity Levels Affect Sourdough Bread Dough Rising

A dough’s hydration is crucial and is established through the ratio of water and flour used. Dough that is too wet or dry can result in the dough not correctly rising.

The level of humidity can also affect your sourdough bread, leading to conditions like a gummy texture or a tight crumb. Higher levels of humidity can cause a more extensive buildup of CO2 gas bubbles, leading to an airier bread crumb and more loft to the bread.

However, if the humidity is too low, the dough can dry out, leading to a tough crust and a dense crumb. This can be remedied by covering the dough with a damp cloth or placing it in a humid environment, such as a closed oven with a pan of water.

It’s also important to note that the temperature and humidity levels during the fermentation process can affect the flavor of the sourdough bread. Warmer temperatures and higher humidity can lead to a more sour flavor, while cooler temperatures and lower humidity can result in a milder taste.

The Role of Fermentation Time in Sourdough Bread Dough Rising

Fermentation time for sourdough bread is usually anywhere from 8-24 hours. If the fermentation process lasts too long, it may result in the dough being too sour and a slower rise. On the other hand, if the dough does not have sufficient fermentation time, it may impact the dough’s taste and texture.

It is important to note that the temperature at which the dough is fermented also plays a crucial role in the rising process. Warmer temperatures can speed up fermentation, resulting in a quicker rise, while cooler temperatures can slow down fermentation, resulting in a longer rise time.

Additionally, the type of flour used in the dough can also affect the fermentation process. Whole grain flours tend to ferment more slowly than white flours, which can impact the overall rise time and flavor of the bread.

Tips to Troubleshoot Non-Rising Sourdough Bread Dough

To get your sourdough bread dough to rise after a failed attempt, the following tips may help:

  • Ensure the temperature is optimal for yeast activity to occur
  • Try a different type of flour compared to your previous attempt
  • Consider using a different recipe for the sourdough bread dough
  • Ensure your starter is active before using it in the sourdough bread dough
  • Try using whole-grain flour as opposed to white flour

Adjusting Your Recipe for Optimum Sourdough Bread Dough Rise

The correct ratios of flour to water and starter to flour are essential to create the right conditions for optimal sourdough bread dough rise. Our recommendation is to follow an established recipe closely, and consider consulting with a professional bakery if problems persist.

The Impact of Flour Type on Sourdough Bread Dough Rising

The sourdough bread’s flour type is also crucial in the rising process. For instance, a high protein flour like whole wheat flour will have a greater capacity to hold onto the generated gases, leading to a more robust bread structure.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Making Sourdough Bread

Some of the most common sourdough bread-making mistakes that can interfere with the dough rise process are:

  • Not feeding the starter regularly
  • Using cold or water directly from the fridge
  • Over-fermentation of the dough
  • Using too much or too little flour or not following a recipe closely enough

Advanced Techniques for Mastering Sourdough Bread Dough Rise

It takes time, trial and error to develop the perfect sourdough bread recipe that ensures the perfect rise every time. Some advanced techniques to ensure good bread rise include:

  • Using steam when baking the bread to create the crust and keep the bread moist
  • Experimenting with different flours, hydration, and fermentation times or temperatures
  • Pre-shaping the dough before final proofing for a better rise


In summary, several factors can interfere with your sourdough bread dough rise. It is best to follow the recipe as closely as possible and ensure the dough’s temperature, humidity, fermentation, and patience are all optimal. With time and consistent practice, you will get the perfect rise every time.