Infamous Dimethyl Sulfoxide

An Overview Of The Infamous Dimethyl Sulfoxide

Tracing 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 serve human needs today, the origin trail of DMSO leads us to the ancient German chemical industry, which dates 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 trials and errors 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 the Infamous dimethyl sulfoxide to streamline its utility and verify its potential for harm to human life.


What is the infamous Dimethyl Sulfoxide?

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

It is one of the most powerful solvents with characteristic properties to dissolve 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. Using substances with extremely poor solubility in water is recommended, 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 bound 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 go 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 is already known, it can be obtained as a by-product of paper manufacturing and other allied industries.

Infamous Dimethyl Sulfoxide


Chemical and physical properties:

DMSO exhibits at room temperature 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 as the ‘universal solvent as it is soluble in a wide range of solutions such as water, ethanol, propanol, ether, benzene chloroform and many other kinds of organic substances.

Dimethyl sulfoxide has the strongest ability to dissolve most organic compounds, including complex carbohydrates, polymers, peptides, and 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 and 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 learn this product intricately.


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