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5 Things You Should Not Do When Making Homemade Yogurt

Sneak Preview: Read about these five common homemade yogurt problems and mistakes beginners often make.

Avoid common homemade yogurt problems and mistakes by learning from mine. I’ve made every one of these myself. I know that doesn’t make me the expert. However, homemade yogurt is addicting, so I continue to make it almost every week as I have for the past 10+ years.

I think of homemade yogurt as a team project in the same way a farmer works the ground, plants the seed, then prays for a good crop. You don’t have complete control. Your role is to set up the banquet hall correctly and provide the food.

When dinner is ready, the little yogurt bodies enter the dining hall to eat and procreate. If they’re not in the mood because they don’t like the temperature, the menu, or are too old for such foolishness, they will either croak or go to sleep.

The result? Milk.

When, not if, that happens, don’t let the disappointment discourage you. Nearly all yogurt makers have experienced it, including me.

an empty jar of yogurt

This is not a comprehensive guide to making yogurt or a troubleshooting manual. Instead, I learned these lessons from over 11 years of experience with homemade yogurt problems.

If you’ve already run into trouble or need help with the details, be sure to check out the related information linked for your convenience at the end of this article or shoot me a question in the comments.


Don’t be overly anxious.

picture of frustrated child

Readers often report having sleepless nights in anticipation of a successful batch of yogurt. It’s understandable. 

I remember how exciting my first attempt was. However, it is unnecessary to wake up to check on your incubating yogurt like it was a sick child with a fever.

Resist checking the yogurt every 30 minutes to see if it’s “done” yet. Jostling or moving the bowl will most likely spoil the process.

After 5-6 hours, it is OK to shake the bowl ever so gently. Watch for a gelatin-like jiggle.

If a slight shake causes a splash (of the milk, not just the clear liquid sitting on top), apologize for interrupting. Excuse yourself for another hour or two while the yogurt bacteria continue to multiply.

Along the same line, NEVER STIR or disturb your incubating yogurt before it has set. Pouring it into a strainer or another container stops the incubation process. Again, you have no choice but to use it as is or try again with more “starter.”


Don’t use slightly old milk.

Using slightly old milk to make yogurt is not a suitable way to salvage it. The fresher the milk, the better the taste. The finished yogurt will also last longer.

Typically, homemade yogurt will stay fresh in the fridge for at least two weeks. However, please note that if you plan to use your homemade yogurt to start another batch, it should not be older than 7-10 days for the best results.


Don’t incubate yogurt in your oven right after using it for baking dinner.

yogurt incubating in an oven

Doing so can lead to the mass murder of yogurt microbes and the sudden cancellation of your yogurt project. You might be surprised how long it takes a 400˚F oven to cool down to 100˚F.

It might be safe to use the second oven if you have a double oven, depending on how well your oven is insulated.

By the way, if this happens, read this post about how to salvage a batch of unsuccessful yogurt.


Don’t skip the heating process just because you are using pasteurized milk.

heating milk in the microwave
Yes, you can heat your milk in a microwave. No scorching. No stirring. No worries.

I don’t completely understand the chemistry. However, heating milk to 175-180˚F rearranges the proteins in a way that is beneficial to yogurt bacteria. Thus, the heating process is not primarily to kill bacteria in the milk, as some would suggest.

Skipping this step will result in thinner yogurt that is more suitable for drinking.

If you don’t want to heat your milk, try this cold-start process for making yogurt. It is much easier.


Don’t eat every last drop of your precious homemade yogurt.

I know it’s hard to stop. But save a few tablespoons to use as a starter for your next batch. Do it before you add any flavoring or sweeteners. Then, hide it behind the broccoli so nobody will eat it.

Usually, you can make 3-4 batches before you start over with store-bought yogurt. However, traditional yogurt starters for sale online are re-usable for a much longer time.

Read more about yogurt starters for homemade yogurt here.

Are you looking to tweak your method of making Greek yogurt? Don’t miss my video showing one way to do it.

Bonus tip:

Can I freeze yogurt to use as a starter for my next batch?

Go right now and put about 1/4 cup of your (unflavored) freshest homemade yogurt in a small plastic container. It’s a good idea to place it in your freezer and save it for a rainy day.

saving your homemade yogurt to make next batch

Think of this frozen yogurt as an insurance starter for the day you forget and accidentally eat the last of your yogurt, go on vacation, or you need a break but don’t want to give up the idea forever.

comparison of yogurt made from fresh starter to yogurt made with frozen starter

I tried it several times and could not tell the difference between using my three-day-old homemade yogurt as a starter and homemade yogurt stored in the freezer for three months.

Admittedly, I have not done extensive testing to know how LONG one can keep it in the freezer. However, It should save at least three months, according to my experience. (Update: Throw it out after three months.)

If you have a cautionary tale gleaned from your own yogurt-making experience, I would love to hear about it.

Pin the picture below to save for later.

Read 5 Things You Should Not Do When Making Homemade Yogurt before you try it at home (or after if things didn't go right.)

If you have any questions or suggestions, you can email me privately: Paula at

Hope to see you again soon!


Tuesday 7th of December 2021

I would love it if you'd do a post on how to flavor yogurt DURING the cooking process. I know I can add sugar, cinnamon and vanilla to the milk, but I'm wondering if I could make banana yogurt by adding pureed banana to the milk BEFORE i cook it. What can and can't you add? My understanding is acid content will impact whether it will set, but I'm not sure exactly. Your website is AMAZING. thanks


Tuesday 7th of December 2021

Hi Mary, I think your comment is a sign. I got this same question from another reader yesterday. I need to write about it for sure. I never add anything because of the risk of changing the texture. I have also read that adding sugar feeds foreign bacteria that find their way into yogurt. They are supposedly not well adapted to eating the sugars in milk, so they lay dormant unless you add sugar. BUT, I promise that I will do some experimenting and see what really does happen. When you see that post, consider it dedicated to you. 🤗.


Wednesday 20th of October 2021

Also, don't spill it all over your counter, down your cupboard doors, and all over your floor like I did this morning!


Wednesday 20th of October 2021

Oh no! Hopefully, you got it all when you were cleaning up. Dried yogurt sticks like crazy.

6 Reasons Why Home Made Yogurt Fails - hqvideos

Sunday 20th of December 2020

[…] Things You Should Not Do When Making Yogurt […]


Sunday 15th of November 2020

I have made yougurt for a long time and like to use a container that brings the liquid withing 1/2- 1" of the top. After incubation and before refrigerating, I place a couple of layers of paper towel on the top with the end hanging over one side. I put it in the refrigerator and put a small loaf pan under the overhanging end. The paper towel wicks the liquid from the yogurt. The longer you leave it, the more whey you will have, but you need to make sure that the end of the paper towel is NOT touching the liquid. Sometimes, I will remove the paper towel and add new ones depending on how thick I want my yogurt. This makes a nice thick consistency without straining, whick I find a bit messy. Remove the towel, squeeze the liquid out and toss. I save the whey that collects in the little pan.


Monday 16th of November 2020

@Paula, Normally, overnight is long enough, but sometimes I swap out the towels and let it sit in the refrigeratorfor longer, but I like my yogurt quite thick. I've thought about trying a cloth towel or cheesecloth.


Sunday 15th of November 2020

Hi Criss,

Thanks for writing. I've heard of this technique before. It wouldn't be for me, but it might be perfect for others so I'm glad you took the time to share. I'm curious as to how long it takes to get yogurt that is as thick as you like.


Thursday 22nd of October 2020

Hi. I have been making successful yogurt for years but this was my first time trying it with fresh whey after I read your post. It turned out great. Now I have a full jar of fresh whey after straining but I’m not ready to make more yogurt. Will the whey work as a starter after freezing? How long will it keep as a starter in the fridge? I used the cold start method in the Instant Pot.


Friday 23rd of October 2020

@Paula, Thank you for the speedy response. I’m in my 80’s and only make yogurt for myself about every two weeks. I’ll freeze a cup of fresh whey and try it. If it doesn’t work I’ll do it over adding freeze dried starter. I’ll let you know the result.


Friday 23rd of October 2020

Hi Louise,

Great to hear from you!

Sounds like you are a pro-yogurt-maker. I treat whey like yogurt when it comes to using it as a starter. It makes the best yogurt within 7-10 days. Beyond that time is dicey. There may or may not be enough active yogurt bacteria to make a good batch. I have never frozen whey. But I don't know why you couldn't. Great idea. However, I have so much whey on hand at any one time, that I can't imagine using precious freezer space for that. If you try it, I would love to know how it works for you.