In engineering applications, cylindrical bars of 20 carbon steel are often subjected to a combination of tensile loading and torsional loading during the service, thereby causing premature failure or an accident. In order to explore the influence of loading sequence of tension and torsion on the mechanical properties of 20 carbon steel, tests of combined tension-torsion loading and combined torsion-tension loading are employed in this work. During experiments, a microscope is used for the in situ characterization of micro-damage evolution on the surface of specimens. At the same time, to analyze the influence of loading sequence on the stress distribution, ABAQUS software is utilized to conduct the relevant finite element simulation, where the results of finite element analysis are consistent with the experiments. Evidently, the torsional strength of 20 carbon steel is decreased with an increase in the pre-tensile stress, under the combined tension-torsion. However, the tensile strength of 20 carbon steel is enhanced with the increasing pre-torsional angles, under the combined torsion-tension. Moreover, the in situ images characterized the micro-damage evolution of 20 carbon steel under pure tension, pure torsion, combined tension-torsion and combined torsion-tension. It is concluded that the deference in loading sequence changes the failure mechanism of 20 carbon steel is different.