- Download the SteamOS recovery image.
- Write the SteamOS Recovery ISO to a USB drive with Rufus or Balena Etcher.
- Launch Steam OS Recovery.
- Select “Reinstall SteamOS.”
If your Steam Deck is experiencing SteamOS related issues (not starting, not responding, or any other similar issues), you may want to reinstall or reimage SteamOS. Knowing how to restore SteamOS is also useful when you want to go back from Windows to SteamOS. Here is how to do it.
What you will need for a Steam Deck Recovery
To reinstall SteamOS, you will need a 16GB or larger USB stick, or microSD card, to use as a boot drive. The boot drive must have a capacity of at least 16 GB, as the SteamOS recovery image takes up more than 8 GB of space on the boot drive.
Warnings: Anything currently stored on the USB drive or SD card you use willpower erased, so be sure to back up your existing data if you don’t want to lose it.
If you have a USB-C stick, you can plug it directly into your Steam Deck. The same goes if you have a microSD card lying around. If you don’t have one of those, you’ll need a USB dock or USB-A to USB-C adapter.
You can also use a mouse, but it’s not necessary as you can use the Steam Deck’s touch screen during installation. The installation procedure involves only three or four clicks, or taps, anyway.
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How to restore Steam OS to your Steam Deck
Step 1 – Download Steam OS Recovery Image
You can download the recovery image by visiting Valve’s Steam Deck Recovery Instructions page.
Once you’re there, you can find the Steam Deck recovery image in the first step of the “Steam Deck Recovery Instructions” part of the page. Click on the link provided and download the SteamOS recovery image.
Next, you need to unzip the SteamOS recovery image file using WinRAR, 7-Zip, or any other unzip tool you prefer. Once the app unpacks the image, continue to the second step.
Step 2: Create the SteamOS Recovery ISO with Rufus or Balena Etcher
Now, you need to download Rufus or launch the app if you have already installed it on your PC. Note that you can use other tools to create a bootable drive – Valve recommends Balena Etcher in case you’re on MacOS or Linux. In this guide, we only cover the process with Rufus.
Once you enter Rufus, select your USB flash or microSD card as your device.
In the “Boot Selection” menu, select “Disk Image or ISO” and then click the “Select” button and locate your SteamOS recovery image file.
Next, press the “Start” button.
Then click the “OK” button once Rufus warns you that it will delete all data on your storage drive during the bootable drive creation process and wait for it to finish. It usually takes 15-20 minutes depending on the speed of your storage drive.
Step 3: Start SteamOS Recovery
After Rufus finishes creating a bootable drive, safely remove the USB flash drive or microSD and power off your Steam Deck.
Once your rig is turned off, press the power button while holding down the volume down button. Once you hear the sound, release both buttons and you should enter Steam Deck’s “Boot Manager” menu and choose your storage drive as the boot device.
Important: Sometimes there will be three options to choose from. In addition to the Steam Deck’s internal SSD and storage drive, the “Boot Manager” menu will also display a third boot image option that has “SteamOS” at the beginning of its name. Don’t choose that option as it can lead to an endless installation cycle, which you don’t want to experience.
Once you have selected the correct boot image option (your storage drive with no SteamOS in front of its name), wait for it to boot into SteamOS recovery.
This process can take hours if your USB stick is slow. If nothing happens after 30-40 minutes, it might be a good idea to get a faster USB stick or microSD card and create a new bootable drive. In our tests, we waited 10-15 minutes for the Steam recovery environment to boot.
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Step 4: Reinstall SteamOS
Once the SteamOS Recovery Environment boots, you will be presented with a default SteamOS desktop with four icons as shown below.
Note: At the time of writing, it appears that the current SteamOS recovery image on the Valve website features an older version of SteamOS that is incompatible with the latest controller drivers.
In other words, you will have to use the touch screen as controller elements such as analog sticks and touchpads will not work. Again, you can use a mouse if you’re using a USB dock, but it’s not necessary.
If you want to do a clean install that will remove all your data, tap the “Reimage Steam Deck” icon. To install SteamOS while keeping your files and settings, tap the “Reinstall SteamOS” icon.
Note that Valve says that selecting the “Reinstall SteamOS” option “will reinstall SteamOS on your Steam Deck while trying to preserve your games and personal content.” In other words, Valve does not guarantee you will have your games and settings waiting for you after restoring the operating system.
We recommend performing a clean install if you are having major issues with your SteamOS installation.
However, you can first use the “Reinstall Steam OS” option to try to keep your games and settings. If reinstalling SteamOS doesn’t fix the problem, try a clean install by selecting the “Reimage Steam Deck” icon on your desktop.
If you can use SteamOS desktop mode, you can back up your Steam Deck before reinstalling the operating system. We have a guide on how to back up your Steam Deck that you can read.
Once you tap on the appropriate icon, you’ll see one or two windows launch, and you’ll soon be greeted with the dialog shown below. Tap or click the “Continue” button.
Once the second dialog box appears, notifying you that the imaging process has finished, tap the “Continue” button again and wait for your Steam Deck to reboot. The reset process may take a while. We expect 35-40 minutes, but mileage may vary depending on the speed of the starter drive. We use a 10+ year old USB flash drive; you should expect less if you’re using a newer, faster drive.
Step 5 – Go Through the Steam OS Setup Process
Once SteamOS restarts, the language selection window appears, the same one you saw when you first turned on your Steam Deck. Go through the setup process again and you are done restoring SteamOS. That’s all!
If you want to do more with your Deck, learn how to optimize Steam Deck for longer battery life.