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Troubleshooting Your Water Kefir Grains

water kefir grains

From time to time your Water Kefir Grains might give you a run for your money (and patience). Here are some common troubleshooting issues.

My grains are sluggish! What do I do?

  1. Raisins! Add a small handful of raisins to your next culturing batch, ensuring the raisins are free of oil and sulfur. This batch will be sweeter since raisins are naturally sweet, and the grains will feast upon the natural sugar. Fun fact, if you eat the raisins after the culturing time, they won’t be sweet anymore. Also, because of the extra fruit sugar, extra carbonation should develop. Oh, and raisins add a little boost of nutrition!
  2. You can also do a “rinse and rest” where you gently rinse grains in filtered water (NO CHLORINE/CHLORAMINE/FLUORIDE), put them in sugar water, and let them sit in the fridge a week. This is a “last ditch” effort to save grains that have been struggling, it’s not meant to be a first avenue of remediation. In general, grains don’t like to be stored, but sometimes overworked grains need a small break.
  3. Really take a look at your process and ensure you’re not cheating on the steps. Examples: If you’ve been giving your grains less sugar because you feel it’s too sweet, give them the full amount recommended. Or, if you’ve been culturing them 48-72 hours, batch after batch, go back to 24-48 hour batches so they are getting fresh food more often.

How do I know they’re working after I rehydrate them?

It might take several batches to several weeks, but they will be efficiently working when you see all three of these:

  1. The sugar water’s color gets lighter from the beginning of Day 1 to the end of Day 2
  2. The sugar water will be slightly cloudy
  3. The water kefir will taste sweet, but not crazy sweet like you just dissolved the sugar into the water.

My water kefir still tastes too sweet!

First, forget the store versions you’ve tried. I’m not even sure that stuff is really even fermented, for Pete’s sake, although it may have artificially added lab-developed bacteria. Water kefir is a sweet cultured drink after the first ferment, and you just can’t avoid that. If you’ve just begun and it’s only been a few weeks since rehydration, likely your kefir is fine even though it’s too sweet. It just needs a few more batches or so, don’t panic yet. You do want to be concerned if your 2-day batches at a steady 68-85ºF taste like you’ve just mixed up the sugar and water.

You can manipulate final sugar content in finished water kefir by doing a second ferment. After removing the grains, put your water kefir into an airtight container (mason jar with brand new sealing lid/ring, or a Grolsch bottle/an authentic Grolsch-style bottle) leaving a few inches of headspace. If you choose a “Grolsch-style” bottle, make sure it was designed to withstand massive pressure, or you could have a dangerous mess on your hands if it breaks…no one wants to wake up in the middle of the night to an explosion, and it has happened. So skip the IKEA and Target cutsie flip-top bottles for this purpose. Safest thing is to buy from a brewing supply storefront or online brewing supply company.

So, clamp it closed or screw the band on tightly, and let it sit at room temperature for 1 to 4 days. Two things to remember: 1) The longer it’s closed up, the more pressure builds, and 2) The warmer the room, the faster the pressure builds. A combination could mean it only takes 1 day to get pop and fizz along with a less sweet drink.

Even if you’re a pro, ALWAYS USE CAUTION every time you open a bottle. I find it preventatively in my favor to open it in the sink with a wet towel over my hands and the bottle…NEVER put your face over the bottle to check things out. Release the lid slowly, and if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the gas escaping.

Reminder, depending on the season, it may take a few to several days to achieve a less sweet but poppy/fizzy kefir. For example, in the winter it may take 3-4 days whereas in the summer it may only take 1-2 days.

I’m not getting any fizz in my second ferment!

Not getting any fizz? Try adding a few tablespoons of juice. Sweeter juices will give the water kefir more “fuel” and you may have a faster second ferment. I see a remarkable difference between apple juice and grape juice. Apple juice takes longer to achieve my goal, while grape juice often tastes like alcohol if I do it the same length of time as apple juice…yikes!

We’ve heard using a higher mineral sugar in the first ferment will work to help with the fizz in your second ferment. Just beware if you are using spring or well water - the high mineral sugar may be mineral overload, so instead, try moving it somewhere warmer, bottling it up longer, and using as airtight a bottle as possible.

In the summer my second ferments are really powerful even after a day or so. It gets messy! What can I do?

No one enjoys a kefir shower! In those warmer months, take care to “burp” your bottles each day (again, in the sink, with a wet towel). If you’re finding you’re not getting enough pressure built up at the end of the day, go two days and see how it goes. I found that a solid 3 days without opening the bottle worked. Experiment.

You can also move your bottles somewhere cooler, and that will help slow down the build up of pressure if you need to time things better.

My water kefir tastes a little like alcohol. What’s up with that? Do I worry?

Honestly there is not enough sugar in a first ferment to make you anywhere near dangerously intoxicated, but there are times when added fruit juice to a second ferment will definitely make things taste more like alcohol if it ferments for several days at a warm room temperature. When this happens to me, I just dilute it with water and carry on… for more information, grab a hydrometer or a Brix and read here. Search for Kelly the Kitchen Kop as she has a great article as well on water kefir/alcohol.

My water kefir is anything but normal…ick! It’s foamy, scummy, slimy, filmy, thick, syrupy, gross! What do I do?

There could be a zillion reasons for your wonky water kefir. First, DON’T DRINK IT. Second, check your process or environment. It could be something as simple as too many minerals, or it’s too close to a houseplant.

Gently rinse the grains with a good quality, filtered water (NO chlorine, chloramine, fluoride etc). Try another batch. If you get the wonky water kefir again, you could try another rinse, then rest in the fridge for a week. Plan on giving your grains several rounds of culturing before calling it quits, since refrigeration can make even healthy grains rebound a bit slowly. Use a more processed sugar (i.e. white) to make it easy on the grains, kind of like the BRAT diet when you’ve got a sick kiddo who needs to take it easy on their tummy. Don’t add extra minerals. Call it quits if you keep getting gross water kefir, and get new grains.

Um, what is that gross brown stuff/flakes in my water kefir? 

If you’ve just rehydrated your water kefir, it’s more than likely residual bits of rapadura that became foamy during the growing process, and then dried right along with the grains in the dehydration process. If wanted, you could pick them out, but they should just get used up at some point by the grains.

You could also be talking about sediment from the yeasties that form. That is no biggie either. You can consume that right along with your kefir, or strain it out from the container to your glass.

My grains are floating! Is that good or bad?

There’s a possibility the grains (if you stored them) may be freezer burned, they were exposed to high heat, or they are just old (that’s rare). There’s no way to tell what the cause is, so if your grains are no longer performing well as they once were, then we can assume they are damaged.

If they are happily floating up and down, or just up, but your water kefir still tastes fabulous, then don’t worry. Sometimes the carbon dioxide from the yeasts during fermentation is getting trapped with the grains, making them float.

Why does my water kefir smell kind of like sulfur?

According to some homebrewing experts for beer and wine, the presence of sulfur indicates there may be a deficiency of certain nutrients, or the yeast is stressed due to environmental factors. To make it go away from the current batch, try aerating it by pouring the kefir from one container to another a few times.

For your next batch of water kefir using the grains, try adding a clean slice of organic lemon. That may help balance things out. Make sure the lemon was cleaned with just water, using your muscles to scrub anything off. You don’t want soap residue in your kefir.

My water kefir is a bit yeasty smelling, unpleasant…what to do?

Sometimes things are out of balance. For your next batch of water kefir using the grains, try adding a clean slice of organic lemon. If that doesn’t work even after a few batches, try re-evaluating how you are conducting the ferment. You could try shorter batches (24 hours vs. 48 hours), or if you have more than 3 Tablespoons of grains you might try discarding down to just 3 Tablespoons and see how it goes. Check your room temperature, especially at night, or your water source, etc. Make sure everything is optimal.

My water kefir smells AWFUL, like stinky socks!

Yikes! Well, once you get to that point, it may be too late. Again, similarly to it smelling yeasty or unpleasant, try re-evaluating how you are conducting the ferment. You could try shorter batches (24 hours vs. 48 hours), or if you have more than 3 Tablespoons of grains you might try discarding down to just 3 Tablespoons and see how it goes. Check your room temperature, especially at night, or your water source, etc. Make sure everything is optimal.

Although we don’t recommend long-term fridge storage, as a last-ditch effort, you could try resting them in the fridge after a quick gentle rinse with water that is free of fluoride and chlorine/chloramine. Put them in sugar water, using the same amounts you would to make a regular batch. Let them rest, covered with a snug lid, for 1 week. Take them out and try culturing them again. It could take a few batches for them to snap back if they are going to snap back. Good luck!

Oh crud! I smell vomit or nail polish remover! Now what?

We’ve heard this is a temporary imbalance. Your kefir’s yeasts and bacteria are unhappy for whatever reason (check your fermenting routine and environment!). Do not drink the kefir, but keep brewing batches. Supposedly it will go away on its own. If it never does, and you’ve been fermenting according to the do’s and don’ts, then you may need new grains. Good thing we know a superb source for Water Kefir Grains.  


Mold is a very rare occurrence. But when it happens, IMMEDIATELY discard the entire batch…yes, grains too. It’s not safe, and you can’t “what if I” your way into saving them. Just don’t.

You can start again after you clean your jar thoroughly, using regular dishsoap (never anti-bacterial) and a good hot rinse.

Then check on these things to see what may have been contaminating your brew or causing them to weaken/invite mold:

  • Was there chlorine, fluoride, or chloramine in your water?
  • Was your water “sparkling” or enhanced with minerals? Alkalinized? Well water that hasn’t been tested in awhile? Remember you want PURE water – bottled plain spring water, or a good filtered water like water that has gone through a Berkey Water Filtration system (not a Brita or the fridge filter).
  • Could the water have been too warm at some point when grains were added?
  • Are your ratios correct, according to NWFerments’ directions?
  • Could there be too many minerals? Are you using a darker colored cane sugar along with any baking soda, sea salt, molasses or eggshells?
  • Is the first ferment allowed to breathe, with a permeable cover (not a lid)?
  • Could your room temperature at night be dropping below 68º? Could it be at any point rising above 85º?
  • Are you sticking to just 24-48 hour brew times?
  • Do you give your grains breaks?
  • Are your precious grains too close to another culture? Even a cabinet door that is closed will allow bacteria to move freely. Give them 4 to 5 feet of space.
  • What about bad bacteria? Are your grains too close to a dirty laundry hamper, the compost can, your garbage bin, Fluffy’s cat litter box, Francis the fern? Any chemical products in use around the water kefir jar? Again, give them space!
  • Are you using any anti-bacterial soap that may be leaving residue on your hands, tools, or jars? Anti-bacterial soap will do its job on your good bacteria!

Are you having other issues? Contact us and we’ll see if we can help!