Right controller and buttons on the Steam Deck
Marcus Mears III / How-To Geek
To reinstall SteamOS on your Steam Deck:
  1. Download the SteamOS Recovery Image.
  2. Write the SteamOS Recovery ISO to a USB drive with Rufus or Balena Etcher.
  3. Boot into SteamOS Recovery.
  4. Select "Reinstall SteamOS."

If your Steam Deck suffers from SteamOS-related issues—failing to boot, being unresponsive or any other similar problem—you might want to reinstall or reimage SteamOS. Knowing how to restore SteamOS is also handy when you want to switch back from Windows to SteamOS. Here’s how to do it.

What You’ll Need for a Steam Deck Recovery

To reinstall SteamOS, you’ll need a 16GB or larger USB thumb drive, or a microSD card, to use as a bootable drive. The bootable drive has to have a capacity of at least 16GB since the SteamOS recovery image takes more than 8GB of space on the bootable drive.

Warning: Everything currently stored on the USB drive or SD card you use will be erased, so make sure you back up any existing data if you don’t want to lose it.

If you have a USB-C thumb drive, you can connect it directly to your Steam Deck. The same goes if you have a microSD card lying around. If you don’t have one of those, you’ll either need a USB dock or a USB-A to USB-C adapter.

You can also use a mouse, but it isn’t needed since you can use Steam Deck’s touch screen during installation. The installation procedure includes only three or four clicks—or taps—anyway.

RELATED: How to Fix No Audio on TV on a Steam Deck With Windows

How to Restore SteamOS on Your Steam Deck

Step 1: Download the 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 under the first step of the “Steam Deck Recovery Instructions” part of the page. Click on the provided link and download the SteamOS recovery image.

Download SteamOS recovery image by clicking on the download link provided under the Steam Deck Recovery Instructions headline

Next, you need to unpack the SteamOS recovery image archive with WinRAR, 7-Zip, or any other unzipping tool you prefer. Once the app unzips the image, move on to the second step.

Unzip the SteamOS recovery image with your favorite unzipping tool

Step 2: Create SteamOS Recovery ISO With Rufus or Balena Etcher

Now, you should download Rufus or start the app if you’ve already installed it on your PC. Note that you can use other tools for creating a bootable drive: Valve recommends Balena Etcher in case you’re on MacOS or Linux. In this guide, we’re only covering the process with Rufus.

Once you enter Rufus, select your USB flash or microSD card as your Device.

Under the “Boot Selection” menu, pick “Disk or ISO Image,” and then click on the “Select” button and locate your SteamOS recovery image file.

Pick the Disk or ISO Image in Rufus and then hit the select button and locate your SteamOS recovery image

Next, press the “Start” button.

Once you've loaded your SteamOS image press the Start button to start creating the bootable flash drive

Then click on the “OK” button once Rufus warns you it will delete all data on your storage drive during the process of creating a bootable drive and wait for it to finish. It usually takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on the speed of your storage drive.

When Rufus warns you it will delete all data on the selected drive press OK to continue

Step 3: Boot Into SteamOS Recovery

After Rufus finishes creating a bootable drive, safely remove the USB flash or the microSD and turn off your Steam Deck.

Once your Deck is shut down, press the Power button while holding the Volume Down button. Once you hear the sound, release both buttons, and you should enter Steam Deck’s “Boot Manager” menu and pick your storage drive as the boot device.

Once in Steam Deck boot Manager, select your USB flash drive and press the "A" button to boot SteamOS recovery image stored on it

Important: Sometimes, there will be three options to pick from. Aside from Steam Deck’s internal SSD and your storage drive, the “Boot Manager” menu will also show a third boot image option that has “SteamOS” at the beginning of its name. Do not pick that option since it can lead to an endless install loop, which you do not want to experience.

Once you’ve selected the correct boot image option—your storage drive without 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, getting a faster USB flash or a microSD card and creating a new bootable drive might be a good idea. In our testing, we waited about 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’ll be presented with a default SteamOS desktop featuring four icons, as shown below.

Note: At the time of writing, it looks like the current SteamOS recovery image on Valve’s website features an older SteamOS version incompatible with the latest controller drivers.

In other words, you’ll have to use the touchscreen since the controller elements, such as the analog sticks and touchpads, won’t work. Again, you can use a mouse if you’re using a USB dock, but it isn’t necessary.

If you want to perform a clean installation that will delete all your data, tap the “Reimage Steam Deck” icon. To install SteamOS while keeping your files and settings, tap the “Reinstall Steam OS” icon.

Note that Valve says that selecting the “Reinstall SteamOS” option “will reinstall SteamOS on your Steam Deck while attempting to preserve your games and personal content.” In other words, Valve doesn’t guarantee you’ll have your games and settings waiting for you after you restore the operating system.

We recommend performing a clean install if you’re having major issues with your SteamOS installation.

However, you can use the “Reinstall Steam OS” option first to try keeping your games and settings. If reinstalling SteamOS doesn’t fix the issue, try to perform a clean install by selecting the “Reimage Steam Deck” icon on the desktop.

If you can use the SteamOS desktop mode, you can back up your Steam Deck before reinstalling the OS. We have a guide on how to back up your Steam Deck you can read.

Once you tap on the appropriate icon, you’ll see one or two windows starting, and soon you’ll be greeted with the dialog box shown below. Tap, or click the “Proceed” button.

Tap on the Proceed button once SteamOS notifies you that the action will reimage the Steam Deck

Once the second dialog box shows, notifying you that the reimaging process is finished, tap the “Proceed” button again and wait for your Steam Deck to reboot. The reboot process can take a while. We waited for about 35-40 minutes, but your mileage may vary depending on the speed of your boot drive. We used a 10+ years old USB flash; you should wait less if you’re using a newer and faster drive.

Step 5: Go Through the SteamOS Setup Process

Once the SteamOS reboots and you’re greeted with the language selection window, the same one you saw back when you powered your Steam Deck on for the first time. Walk through the setup process again, and you’re done restoring SteamOS. That’s it!

If you want to do more with your Deck, learn how to optimize the Steam Deck for longer battery life.

RELATED: Does Your Steam Deck SD Card Affect Game Loading Times?

Profile Photo for Goran Damnjanovic Goran Damnjanovic
Goran Damnjanovic is a freelance writer specializing in PC hardware, gaming hardware in general, and video games. He has over seven years of experience writing for various online publications, including TechSpot and EsportsHeadlines.
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