The tremor’s epicentre was 2.5 miles below Stockton-on-Tees and was recorded at 5.57am on Thursday.
One person commenting on social media said it was “bad enough to wake us up” while another said it shook their house “as if a train went past my bedroom window”.
Another said it was a “strong earthquake (for England)” and the “whole house shook and electricity flickered”.
The United States Geological Survey estimated the magnitude of the quake was 2.8, but the British Geological Survey (BGS) revised it upwards to 3.0 following local analysis.
Glenn Ford, a BGS seismologist, said the shaking would have lasted for a few seconds and could have been strong enough to knock over ornaments in people’s homes.
He said there were usually just three magnitude 3.0 earthquakes in the UK every year, compared with around 100,000 elsewhere in the world.
Mr Ford said: “We are not terribly seismic in the UK, people are just not calibrated to them. People would not have looked up from their newspaper for this one if this happened in Greece.
“This one happened under a heavily populated area. There would not have been much traffic and so they can actually perceive the earthquake.
“People would have been lying in bed, so they would perceive it themselves.”
He added: “There would have been a rumbling noise, a little shudder, it would only have lasted for three or four seconds.”
Mr Ford said although the UK is not on any major fault lines, it is criss-crossed by smaller ones which still experience stresses from time to time.
Additional reporting by Press Association