DIY back-door bug screen

A cheap and effective way to keep those pesky bug out.

My life story leading up to the how-to part of the back-door bug screen

Feel free to scroll through all this if you just want to know how I made the screen. I won’t think less of you.

Bugs suck. Some literally. Though van life is like fancy car glamping, I still prefer not to share my home with bugs who bite me. I looked into buying Sprinter van specific bug screens, and let me tell you, they are expensive. The ones I considered purchasing, should money fall out of the sky, cost nearly $1,000 for both a sliding and back door screen made with no-see-um mesh. Do you know what I could do with $1,000?! Buy a diesel heater to keep the van warm in the winter! Way more necessary than keeping some pests out. I opted to either wait for money to randomly appear, or simply do without and deal with the bugs.

However, Georgia is not cool in the summer, and summer sometimes starts in like April (as I write this it’s March 31st). I imagined soon sleeping with the van doors open, enjoying a light breeze blowing over us and keeping us cooler in the warm evenings. I also imagined us waking up covered in bug bites and incessantly scratching ourselves like tweakers. Okay, bug screens might be necessary.

Ignoring the cat hair, a screen would also prevent tree litter from blowing onto the bed with the back doors open.

Still not willing to part with such a large sum of money, especially not in the middle of a cross-country-move-on-hold-because-of-a-pandemic while unemployed, I decided to sew one. Before the ‘rona thwarted our plans, I intended on spending at least two weeks at my sister’s while Jeremy shuttled cars across the country. During this time, I planned to work on the van and brought a plethora of assorted project materials to keep me occupied. Buried in a tote, I unearthed five yards of no-see-um mesh. Bingo. Additionally, I had some scrap fabric to donate to the cause.

Looking at the back door I determined the garage did not need a bug screen. If any buggers weasel their way in through a crack, they’re allowed to bite me. Although I planned to attach the screen to the 2” x 4” of the bed platform, the portion of the screen covering the mattress didn’t need to be mesh and could be fabric instead. These decisions saved me mesh to use on other bug screens.

My garage sewing station, piled up with my various materials available to construct a bug screen. I used an Excel spreadsheet to estimate if I’d have enough materials for all my projects.

My basic plan was to not only have fabric on the bottom of the screen, but also going around all edges of the mesh to more easily attach sew-on Velcro (loop-side to avoid ripping the mesh when stowed). Adhesive Velcro (hook-side) would be stuck around the doorway, holding the screen in place. The adhesive Velcro I ordered off Amazon didn’t stick to the gasket going around the doorway, ruining half my plans.

“Why not stick it on the metal next to the gasket?” you ask. Well, let me tell you.

I wanted to shut the doors with the screen in place without potentially damaging it, so I couldn’t go aft of the gasket with the Velcro. I also didn’t want to stick the Velcro to my beautiful burlap and risk it ripping off when removing the screen. I pondered to myself, “If only there was something thin but relatively sturdy I could sew to the screen and stick between the gasket and the metal…” Then I saw it, like a beacon in the night – a plastic water bottle.

The useable portion of water bottle, destined to be tabs for the bug screen.

In general, I despise bottled water because of the waste, but in this instance, I ecstatically cut out a piece of plastic, secretly thanking my sister for buying bottled water. The bottle plastic was thin with enough rigidity to fit between the gasket and metal and could be sewn. Aw yeah! Game on!

Finally, the how-to

* This is not a step-by-step, easy-to-follow instructional guide on how to construct a screen of your very own. It’s more like a story of what I did in case you’re feeling froggy and want to give it a go yourself.

Reference for stitches I used: 1 – straight stitch 4 – zigzag stitch, 5 – overcasting stitch. Needles: 70/10 – sewing fabric and mesh only, 100/16 – sewing Velcro or tabs.

First things first, I attached the adhesive hook Velcro to the metal around the top of the doorway and on the 2” x 4” of the bed platform, as well as a small piece on each side of the doorway. Even though I planned to space out the Velcro on the screen itself, I opted for mostly continuous strips on the van to avoid the hook and loop pieces not lining up perfectly. Having 75 feet of hook and only 15 feet of loop, it made more sense for the adhesive hook to go on the van in continuous strips.

Adhesive hook Velcro placement. I suddenly became grateful that I was too lazy to put the burlap all the way to the gasket on top.

I measured and cut a piece of mesh slightly wider than the widest part of the van and about an inch shorter than the distance between the top of the mattress and the top of the doorway. Next, I cut a piece fabric the length of the mesh and 4 ½ inches tall. I turned the fabric into something like a big bias tape. On the long edges, I folded in ½ inch and ironed it, folded the whole thing in half lengthwise and ironed. Then I put about ½ inch of the mesh inside the folded fabric and sewed them together using a straight stitch with a ¼ inch seam.

Left: top fabric ironed bias-tape-like. Middle: placement of mesh in fabric. Right: fabric sewn to mesh.

Because I wanted the screen to fit as perfectly as possible and to be taut to prevent it from billowing in the breeze, I decided to hang what I already had and go from there. I sewed on a piece of Velcro in the middle of the top fabric and hung it up. Since I wanted to close the doors with the screen in place, I needed the fabric to go around the latches. I used a chalk pencil to mark the location of the latches on the fabric and cut it out. I used an overcasting stitch around the cuts to prevent the edges from fraying. Next, I sewed on more Velcro across the top fabric, using three 3-inch strips on each side of the latch cutouts.

I pulled the uncut fabric over the latches and marked on each side of the latch (not shown). Top: the cutouts go around the latches quite nicely. Bottom: closeup of the overcasting stitch for the cutouts.

After hanging up the mesh, I measured the distance between the bottom of the mesh and the bottom of the hook Velcro on the 2” x 4”. Making sure to include seam allowance, I measured and cut the fabric for the bottom of the screen. I attached it to the bottom of the mesh using a straight stitch, with a ½” seam, then using a zigzag stitch I sewed the raw edges to the fabric to lay the seam flat and prevent fraying. At this point I could tell the bottom fabric came up short on one side because the mesh stretched as I sewed and ended up “longer” than when I started. I hung the screen back up, measured the additional fabric needed, and sewed it on. I used the selvage edge for the bottom edge, so I didn’t need to sew that edge to prevent fraying. If both top and bottom edges of your fabric are cut, I recommend sewing one edge with an overcasting stitch.

Bottom fabric and mesh sewn together. Top: front view. Bottom: back view, the mesh doesn’t fray so I wasn’t worried about catching it in the zigzag stitch.

After hanging up the screen again, I made sure the bottom reached the Velcro. Then I sewed a 3-inch piece of Velcro to the middle and hung the screen back up. Pulling the screen just taut, I marked where the strip of hook Velcro on the 2” x 4” hit the bottom fabric when the mesh was taut. I attached 3-inch strips of loop Velcro along marks 3 inches apart.

I cut the fabric to the perfect length to line up with the bottom hook Velcro, but our bed platform isn’t square, so one side is closer to the doorway than the other. Because of this, the fabric was too long on the right side, which is where I needed to mark. You can also see where I added more fabric on the right.

I hung the screen up using the top and bottom Velcro, and pulling the mesh just taut, I trimmed the excess mesh following the outline of the doorway. Then I cut up a couple plastic bottles, only using the smooth top part, and made 18 tabs, rounding all the corners so they wouldn’t snag the mesh.

You can see the extra mesh billowing on the sides.
Left: piece of plastic bottle top, cut going top to bottom. Middle: cut in half. Right: round the edges and you have two tabs!

Laying the screen out, I measured one side of the screen and cut a piece of fabric that length plus an additional 2 inches (in case the mesh stretched) and 1 ½ inches wide. Again, I used a selvage edge for one of the long edges, and I recommend an overcasting stitch along the edge if you have two cut edges.

I sewed the fabric to the mesh using an overcasting stitch to where the seam would be inside the van. I left an opening about an inch or so long every 4 inches starting from the top so I could add the tabs later (9 on each side). When I added the tabs, again, using an overcasting stitch, I tried to get ¾ inch of the tab between the two fabrics. This left a part of the tab sticking out the other end, which I use to help insert them. At the bottom of each side I had a small tab-less section. If you’re more confident in your sewing skills than I, you can sew the tabs in as you sew the mesh and fabric together.

Left: good view of the tab placement. Middle: the seam faces the back (inside the van), and I did this to try to keep the fabric snug against the doorway when installed. Right: the small section at the bottom with no tab where I later added Velcro.

I hung the screen up using the Velcro and the tabs. Using my chalk pencil, I marked the top corners to follow the curve of the doorway and marked where the hook Velcro hit the fabric. At the bottom I marked where the fabric hit the small pieces of hook Velcro on the doorway. I cut and sewed the top corners, and I added loop Velcro to the marked spots.

Left: top corner front view. Middle: top corner back view. Right, velcro on the side of bottom fabric and doorway.
Left: inserting tab between gasket and metal. Middle left: side partially installed. Middle right: look how nicely the top corner fits! Right: side fully installed.

That’s it! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or drop me a line!

Finished and installed! Might not be as good looking as a $500 bug screen, but I’m okay with that for spending a mere $30.

Cost breakdown:

  • 2 yards of 0.5 oz no-see-um mesh** ~ $14 (Ripstop by the Roll)
  • 2 yards of fabric ~ $4 (the cheapest stuff available at Walmart)
  • 4.5 ft sew-on loop Velcro and about 12 ft adhesive hook Velcro ~ $11 (Amazon)

** The mesh I had on hand was purchased five years ago. Since then, RBTR has improved their no-see-um mesh. Supposedly it is “significantly stiffer and less stretchy than previous generations” making it “easier to sew, snag resistant and more durable.” I haven’t worked with the new stuff, so I can’t vouch for it. The mesh I had wasn’t hard to work with and only got a couple small snags in the process.

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I served 11 years in the Navy, and in 2014 I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail. These experiences helped prepare me for vanlife. My husband and I now live in our self-converted van, Mark.

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About Us

We left “normal” life behind and now live in our self-converted van, Mark. Our time in the military and backpacking adventures made vanlife an easy choice. The leap into vanlife and a self-conversion can be exciting yet daunting. We want to share our experiences and provide resources to give you vanlife your way, and the highway.

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