Infamous Dimethyl Sulfoxide

An Overview Of The Infamous Dimethyl Sulfoxide


Tracing back the history of this garlicky taste producing DMSO and its discovery is more interesting than one can imagine.

Like so many other medicinal products that have been serving human needs today, the origin trail of DMSO leads us to the ancient German chemical industry dated back to the mid-to-late 19th century.

While survival was at stake and limitations on the availability of resources and funds were rigid, everyone put on their thinking hats to search for a cheaper yet efficient alternative to produce paper from the available wood pulp.

A long series of trial and error down the line led to the development of a process in which the outcome of by-products included a variety of sulfide-containing compounds. Eventually, these foul-smelling sulfur compounds were converted to environmentally friendly sulfoxides, including DMSO.

Consecutive studies and experimentation began around Dimethyl sulfoxide to streamline its utility and verify the potential for harm to human life.


What is Dimethyl Sulfoxide?

This chemical is an organosulfur compound with the formula (CH3)2SO which is a colourless liquid that has found widespread application across different fields.

It is one of the most powerful solvents that have characteristic properties to dissolve both polar and nonpolar compounds as it lacks an acidic proton giving it a polar nature. It is therefore compatible with a wide range of organic solvents in which it readily mixes including water.

Due to DMSO’s high potency, it works readily with ionic compounds, certain salts, and non-ionic compounds. It is recommended for use with substances that have extremely poor solubility in water, as the application problems are feasibly resolved.


Structure :

Decoding its structure we can easily identify that Dimethyl sulfoxide primarily has a central sulfur atom that is bounded with two methyl groups through single bonds and a double bond attaches the remaining oxygen atom to the sulfur atom. According to the chemical segregation of structures, the compound has Cs symmetry.

It can be easily remembered by its distinct trigonal pyramidal molecular geometry with three other coordinate bonds and a non-bonded electron pair on the central sulfur atom.

Synthesis and production:

The credits for the first synthesis of DMSO goes to Russian origin scientist, Alexander Zaytsev who successfully did it in 1866 and documented his findings the following year in 1867.

Going back to the chemistry basics taught in school, the Kraft process is identified as the core reaction which industrially processes dimethyl sulfide in the presence of oxygen or nitrogen dioxide to produce DMSO.

Additionally, as already known that it can be obtained as a by-product of paper manufacture and other allied industries.

Alexander Zaytsev


Chemical and physical properties:

At room temperature, DMSO exhibits itself as a colourless, odourless, hygroscopic and flammable transparent liquid.

Along with having high polarity, it shows a relatively high boiling point. It is distinguishable from other compounds because of its low toxic nature, appreciable thermal stability, and non-miscible nature with paraffin.

It has fetched itself the title of being the ‘universal solvent as it is soluble in a wide range of solutions such as water, ethanol, propanol, ether, benzene and chloroform and many other kinds of organic substances.

Dimethyl sulfoxide has the strongest dissolving ability and can dissolve most of the organic compounds including complex carbohydrates, polymers, peptides, as well as many inorganic salts and gases.

At any given time it can dissolve a certain amount of solute whose weight is equal to 50-60% of its weight whereas other common solvents can normally dissolve 10-20% only.

Hence, it facilitates the process of sample management as well as the rapid screening of drugs.


Although it is widely used as a solvent, it has many more applications that need to be implemented once we get to know this product intricately.



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