The isolation of biologically active RNA from cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) is difficult due to interference by high levels of endogenous phenolics, polysaccharides, and secondary metabolites. A modified hot borate procedure was developed to combat these cellular constituents during tissue homogenization, resulting in the quantitative recovery of RNA suitable for hybridization analysis, in vitro translation, and cDNA synthesis. The efficacy of several hot borate buffer adjuvants for the qualitative and quantitative recovery of leaf RNA was monitored by absorbance spectra, gel electrophoresis, protein, and cDNA synthesis. Of the buffer adjuvants evaluated, polyvinylpyrrolidone-40 (PVP-40) exhibited the single, most significant impact on the yield and quality of RNA isolated from cotton leaves, although inclusion of deoxycholate and/or Nonident-40 (NP-40) further enhanced the quality of the RNA. The unsurpassed qualitative and quantitative recovery of total RNA from cotton by hot borate buffer at alkaline pH, supplemented with PVP-40, deoxycholate, and/or NP-40 had also proven satisfactory for other recalcitrant plant species as well as for especially difficult tissue types.