DMSO is widely used as a solvent in many organic syntheses and has several important industrial applications including polymer chemistry, pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. It is a dipolar aprotic solvent, and has many similar properties to dimethylformamide (DMF).

DMSO is often used as the solvent for SN2 syntheses, and in the preparation of organometallics such as ferrocene.

It is used as a rinsing agent in the electronics industry.

Deuterated DMSO-d6 is used as a solvent for NMR spectroscopy. It is particularly good for this as it will dissolve a wide range of compounds, and does not interfere with the sample signals excessively.

It is used in antifreeze.

DMSO reacts with oxalyl chloride to give a chlorosulphonium chloride cation, which will oxidise alcohols to aldehydes in the Swern oxidation.

DMSO makes an effective paint stripper, and is safer than many other product such as nitromethane and dichloromethane.

DMSO is used as a cryoprotectant for protecting human and other biological tissues when frozen for storage. It is often mixed with fetal calf serum when used for this purpose.

DMSO has several veterinary uses, such as as a liniment for horses.

See also the section on medical uses.