The major uses of phenol, consuming two thirds of its production, involve its conversion to precursors for plastics. Condensation with acetone gives bisphenol-A, a key precursor to polycarbonates and epoxide resins. Condensation of phenol, alkylphenols, or diphenols with formaldehyde gives phenolic resins, a famous example of which is Bakelite. Partial hydrogenation of phenol gives cyclohexanone, a precursor to nylon. Nonionic detergents are produced by alkylation of phenol to give the alkylphenols, e.g., nonylphenol, which are then subjected to ethoxylation.
Phenol is also a versatile precursor to a large collection of drugs, most notably aspirin but also many herbicides and pharmaceutical drugs.
Phenol is a component in liquid–liquid phenol–chloroform extraction technique used in molecular biology for obtaining nucleic acids from tissues or cell culture samples. Depending on the pH of the solution either DNA or RNA can be extracted.