Treatment of hairy cell leukemia with 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine (2-CdA) induces complete remissions in 85% of patients. Complete remission has been defined as the absence of hairy cells in the bone marrow after routine morphologic examination. To determine if hairy cells could be detected in complete remission bone marrows using immunohistochemical techniques with antibodies L26 (CD20) and DBA.44, 154 bone marrow biopsies performed between 3 months and 25 months after therapy were studied. Of the biopsies, 50% exhibited staining with L26 and/or DBA.44 in five or more cells with morphologic features of hairy cells. Minimal residual disease was usually less than 1% of the total cellular population. DBA.44-positive cells were demonstrated in 91% of the biopsies, although in 48% of these the morphologic features of the positive cells were not sufficiently distinctive for hairy cells. The proportion of biopsies with residual hairy cells was similar over the 25 months of follow up, indicating a relatively stable amount of residual disease. Immunomorphologic analysis is a more sensitive method for detecting residual hairy cells than morphology alone. Although further follow up is necessary to determine the clinical significance of the L26/DBA.44-positive staining in cells with and without distinctive morphologic features of hairy cells, we conclude that many patients in a stable clinical remission may have residual hairy cells.